Participating In Clergy Rites Of Passage

… or the prayer, or the Charge to the Minister, or the Charge To the Congregation at someone’s ordination or installation.

First of all, for the love of tradition and aesthetics and integrity, please do not just feel that you can make up the elements of these liturgies! Find out what a Charge to the Minister is, and what it is not.
It is not a wedding toast.
It is not a Comedy Central roast done clergy-style.
It is not an opportunity for you to wax rhapsodic about your own ministry.

Find out what your liturgical job is and do that. Ask trusted mentors. Research in your denominational archives. Learn what the tradition is, and prepare your role and only that.

Do the thing you were asked to do, and not what you were not asked to do.

If you were asked to give the prayer, do not grab the opportunity at the pulpit to do a 10-minute homily as a lead-in to the prayer. You weren’t asked to give the sermon, so don’t give one. Give a prayer and sit down. I was at an ordination recently where the praying guest snuck in a full homily before his prayer and I blame him and no one else for how hangry I got.

Okay. What else?

Prepare your beginning, your middle and your end. Know how you’re going to wrap up your piece of spoken word or ritual and get off the stage. If you don’t have a clear sense of where to go after your bit is over, ask the marshal.

Have you ever been in the congregation or on the chancel while someone allowed the energy to drop from a beautiful flowing movement to an awkward shuffling? If you watch carefully you can identify the very moment where a confident delivery becomes a tentative conclusion. Stick the landing! Stick the landing!

In conclusion, know what your role is in the service and prepare that. Just do that thing, not any of the other things.

Cold Committals And Grown-Up Gloves

People die in the cold weather, as we all know, and sometimes you’ve got to be the one out there saying the appropriate words as they are laid to rest.

I did that this morning and the first thing I did when pulling up to the cemetery was peep out my car window to see if the mourners had hats on. They did not, so I left mine off, too. When in doubt, I take my cue from the folks I’m ministering to.
To whom I am ministering. Whatever. It’s Friday and we don’t have to be fancy and use correct grammar.

A former parishioner knitted me a beautiful stole-length scarf that I use for these occasions. I wore it stole style while doing the Committal and then wrapped it around me for warmth while the funeral director said a few words.

I love the special connection between funeral directors and clergy. This one I am just getting to know in my city a doll, too. He took my hand in his and said, “Have a merry and holy Christmas.” His eyes were full of care and I got a little teary. What a dear man. Some people just know how to lay on a blessing in a low-key way. It’s a gift.

I’m also showing you some pretty little vintage and the best heated gloves I got somewhere, maybe a gift? The little embroidered detail sets these apart for formal occasions and I’m very glad I have them. I can hold my Kindle easily with them on, too, which isn’t possible with bulkier gloves.

Please don’t ever wear mittens to a Committal. Oh my God, I just thought of that. That would be so wrong, like, “AS SOON AS WE LAY GRANDPA TO REST WE’RE GONNA HAVE A SNOWBALL FIGHT, OKAY? THEN MOM’S GONNA MAKE HOT CHOCKY!” You will instantly be reduced in everyone’s eyes to a freckle-faced kid to whom they will want to feed Campbell’s tomato soup and grilled cheese and call “Tommy.”

Wear nice, grown-up gloves and go home and have some tomato soup and grilled cheese.




Land Of Drugged Out Doggies: Ministry To Animals And Their People

Aloha, noodles!

I am currently nursing a post-surgical beagle and finding it to be much more all-consuming than I had anticipated.

I knew I’d have to carefully help him around. I knew I’d have to do med management and find creative ways to get him to drink water (serve him warm, diluted chicken broth, as it turns out). I knew I’d have to SACRIFICE MY GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP and move downstairs to an inflatable mattress because the bedroom is up 13 steps and he’s not doing that until late October, and he’ll cry and bark all night if I abandon him. I’ve tried.

What I did not consider was that he would need constant supervision for the first few days as he figures out how to maneuver himself around on his little foam mattress pallet, and that he would need to have his cone put on and taken off multiple times a day, and that he would still want to check every rustling sound in the kitchen because it MIGHT BE A FOOD SITUATION.

He is my love and my darling and my dear, and he and the cat are my Guardians of the Galaxy, the A Team, the Cute Squad, Love and Beauty incarnate. The cat is Beauty, the dog is Love, although occasionally they switch. But I tell you what: I ain’t never putting this poor hound through something this major again. As I always say, animals don’t have a bucket list. Same goes for the kitty. I love her a million trillion hearts but I wouldn’t dream of causing her to endure something as upsetting as this.

This led me to wonder how much ministry you do around animals and pets (or, for the more earnest, “animal companions”).

I remember in seminary I took an Ethics class and we were talking about pastoral care and boundaries therein, and one seminarian arrogantly bragged that he coldly rejected the request to visit a member of his parish whose dog was dying. “Give me a break,” he said, or something like that, and I said, “Give you what break? What the hell is wrong with you? If people want to have pastoral support for their loss of a pet, you get your butt over there!” I immediately judged him to be a terrible person and unfit for the ministry. I did. I don’t care. It’s one thing to say, “I declined to visit the home of parishioners whose dog was dying because I had too much going on and I felt that they would be fine with a phone call or a visit at a later time,” but this guy was straight up contemptuous about the parishioners’ relationship with “just a dog.”

This was not cultural. I know that the American pet thing is crazy to a lot of people around the globe and I understand how some may struggle with understanding why and how Americans can spend so much money and energy on domesticated animals, but this was an American. Frankly, if you’re not into animals, that’s fine, but if you’re going to be a pastor you better learn to respect the very real love that people feel for their pets!

Someone called the church once and asked me to do a private blessing for her recently adopted dog. She prefaced her request by saying, “I know you will think this is ridiculous, but…” I said, “Try me.” She explained what she wanted and why, and I said to her, “I dunno. It sounds like a very sweet and respectful ritual you have in mind and actually not ridiculous. I’d be happy to do it.”

I did not wear a robe or stole. I think there’s a time when you’re representing the Church and a time when you’re designing and performing a creative ritual that is spiritual but not religious. By that I mean that you are providing something personal and not institutional– not legitimized by any community of faith — although certainly not harmful or disgraceful. We bring our full pastoral gravitas and affection to these rituals, I think, to honor love and to serve as bridges between the unchurched and traditional religious practice and sacrament. And also because dogs are awesome.

(I know this post is in desperate need of editing but I’m too tired to care. I’ve been nursing a beagle for the past 48 hours, people).

We do a Blessing of the Animals service at my church on St. Francis Sunday (or thereabouts), and I do vest for that because we are blessing the critters within the context of the worship of a covenanted community.

One of my colleagues has an animal chaplaincy and a quick Google search revealed a number of animal chaplaincy mentions. How about you, pigeons?

I’m interested in what you have to say! Meanwhile, let me get this pooch out to do his potty business.

P.S. That picture of me is a thousand years old!

Summer Officiating

“Hello, darlings, well hello, darlings, it’s so nice to be back home where I belong…”

Ah yes, PeaceBang is home from her General Assembly, where she is so glad to have remembered her Monistat non-chafing gel that works like a charm for preventing blisters!

It was a very good GA and so very nice to meet many of you.

Now, let’s talk about what happens during the summer months, which is that many ministers seem to just FALL TO PIECES, Patsy Cline style, over how to dress appropriately for rites of passage.
You’d think that God never invented Gold Bond powder! You’d think that generations of dignified, ordained human beings hadn’t worn many layers of constricting clothing WITHOUT DROPPING DEAD OF HEAT STROKE for many formal occasions such as weddings and funerals and preaching engagements, and walking in Pride parades.

Okay, maybe that latter event is pretty recent, but still.

Please remember the Gospel of PeaceBang: Your comfort does not take priority over your office.
Beloved, let us not enable frumpiness and sloppiness among ourselves.
What is just another day in your ministry is a once-in-a-lifetime milestone in the lives of those you serve. Show up like you understand that, and if the rite of passage is a wedding or a christening, remember that the photos taken on that day will go into family archives FOREVER.
You may personally think that our planet is going to fry to a crisp in a couple of decades or that all photo albums will be left behind in the Imminent Parousia, but it’s not polite to dress in a way that communicates your despair.
You dress UP.

This means that we do not wear short sleeved madras shirts with stoles over them. Keep your shirts solid and if you must wear short sleeves, make sure they’re neat and ironed. Oh, and let’s remember the minister who presided over the funeral in madras shorts.

The right to bear arms is a constitutional one. The right to bare arms is not a clerical one: in a word, DON’T. It’s never appropriate for a formal occasion. Never. Officiate with proper arm coverage and change into a sleeveless cocktail dress for the reception. Nadia Boltz-Weber is edgy and hip and can wear sleeveless clericals because that’s a huge part of her image. They are not probably not part of yours. If you want to go sleeveless in your everyday rounds, be my guest (although I still think visible armpits are sloppy and disrespectful in most settings), but never for a formal rite of passage.

Here’s a helpful column for dude clergy in hot climates.

NO COTTON CAPRIS OR CROPS!!!!! EVER. They are sloppy, frumpy, and wholly inappropriate for any officiating or preaching. Period. If you have a smart pair of cigarette pants that you’re wearing with beautiful flats and a pretty shell and jacket, by all means. But this whole, “I feel so oppressed by the heat and I’m sure that showing 10″ of bare calf will mean the difference between life and death” reasoning shan’t be permitted. Shan’t. Formal occasions are not crop or capri occasions. Get some pants that actually touch the top of your foot like a grown-up.

Yes, I said grown-up. You do know, I hope, that much of what Americans have embraced as casual or leisure-wear are garments that were once only worn by children and juveniles? Be aware of infantilizing yourself. Read my pants rant here.

We do not wear shorts under Geneva gowns. Not ever. Not do we wear athletic sandals of any kind with vestments. Oh my God, remember this?

When doing weddings in street clothes, please never wear stoles over casual attire, and especially not over sleeveless, casual tops. I still shudder over this. It was so bad, I actually did two columns on it.

But here’s a nice, tailored look that will serve you well for summer preaching or presiding at weddings: a neutral lightweight suit and solid shell. Obviously, a pencil skirt would be cooler for summer than the pants. You could actually wear a stole over this suit. Put your hair up, add a nice pair of earrings and maybe a pair of heels, and bam, you’re set.

Here’s a little video I did on summer make-up for ministers.

So hey, I’ve ranted and rambled on enough. Post your thoughts about how to dress for sweaty conditions. I just make sure to powder down, wear cotton and breathable fabrics whenever possible, smile while the sweat is pooling in my shoes and delicately dab my face with a sweet little hankie. It’s all over in an hour or so, and one can always keep a big fluffy towel and change of clothes in another room.

Above all, if you’re in doubt, step it up a notch.

On Visible Bras: PeaceBang Addresses Susan Sarandon At the SAG Awards

Darlings! Wait no longer! PeaceBang has indeed followed the boob-ha-ha (as opposed to a brouhaha or a bro-ha ha) following Susan Sarandon’s Festival Of Inappropriate Sharing at the SAG Awards, during which she was the presenter of the In Memoriam segment of the show.

That last detail is very important, as, were it not for that detail of her obligations to the occasion, I would have simply ignored the tempest in a teapot, saluted Miss Sarandon for being fabulous and fun, and moved onto something more newsworthy. Make sure you have a look at Cris’ Lingeries reviews to know what you need and for a better collection.

However, here at BTFM we live at the intersection of ritual, public image, professionalism and feminism, so Miss PB finds this a perfect opportunity to talk about a few of her favorite things: bras, honoring the dead, and fabulosity!

Here is Susan Sarandon, whose age (69) has been brought into the criticisms of her cleavagelicious outfit:

Susan Sarandon

Susan Boobin

I absolutely agree that maturity is a concern for clergy in considering how they shall attire themselves. I absolutely do not think it a concern for movie stars, who have an entirely different set of objectives when deciding how they want to dress. Which is to say, “Shut it, haters.”

Piers Morgan, who is neither a friend nor someone about whose career I know very much or care at all, has been dragged all over feminist blogs for dragging Miss Sarandon on Twitter. But here’s what he said:

Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 6.15.27 PM

Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 6.15.43 PM

And although other hate-Tweeters made ageist and insulting remarks about Miss Sarandon’s body and sartorial choices, Morgan, to my knowledge, kept his critique focused on the inappropriateness of dressing as she did for what was essential a funeral portion of the event.

I hate to outright agree with Mr. Morgan, so I won’t.
I will simply suggest that if the glorious Susan Sarandon wanted to do a shirtless look with a suit, she could have done it a lot better, and I don’t think this outfit really worked that well.

The suit is by Max Mara and in and of itself is nice, but not slaying me. The jacket is fine but the pants aren’t an elegant cut. It’s a little informal, but this is the SAG Awards, not the Oscars, so no big whoop:

max mara

She’s fun and sexy and looks great head to toe, but the problem is that the bra she is wearing under the suit isn’t pulling its share of the weight. [Insert joke about holding up its share of the weight here: I don’t have time to think of one!]

It looks like she’s just wearing a bra and forgot her shirt, and that’s unfortunate:
Susan Boobin

Now, let’s talk about a bit about the well-established history of visible bras in the entertainment world and salute them. First, Madonna’s bullet bra by Jean Paul Gaultier that you must remember from her Blonde Ambition tour:

bullet bra2

bullet bra

Girls just wanna have fun! And pointy boobs!
It was a fantastic moment in the history of show business attire and it left a lasting legacy. Miss Gaga? Will you step in here for a moment, please?

gaga bullet

Now, obviously Miss Sarandon wouldn’t want to don something as insane as those bras, which were created for stage shows and have no connection to what Miss S. was doing at the SAG Awards. Nor am I suggesting that Miss Sarandon should have gone out for something as throw-down as Rihanna’s Swarovski-encrusted number here, which –again– is a costume:


Some actresses like to blur the line between costume and outfit, and some of those actresses are even Susan Sarandon’s age, and some of them have shown a lot more of their breasts in public than Piers Morgan and other critical observers would tolerate.

cher boobs

So, ignoring the sexist, ageist critics and also refusing to line up with the “BOO YA WOMAN POWER -YOU HATE BOOBS” feminist bloggers, whose arguments seem to me to be misleading (accusing Piers Morgan of things he didn’t say and also failing to engage the important cultural question of how to dress appropriately to introduce an In Memoriam segment of a show), let me conclude that I found Sarandon’s outfit disappointing for the occasion not because she showed too much cleavage but because her bra was too tailored and informal, and looked like a regular bra.

The end result wasn’t chic and sexy, but “Huh, what happened here?” with a bit of “Hey honey, if you were going for shocking or ‘look at my great cleavage, world!’ this wasn’t the time to do it, when you had funereal honors to bestow.”

A little tweak on the bra and I think the outfit could have been formal enough (although certainly super cleavage-focused) to respect the formality of an awards show and her role in it.

Let me show you what I am suggesting:

Here’s Miss Evan Rachel Wood wearing a visible bra with some detail that you don’t say, “Ooh, she forgot to button her shirt.” She looks elegant and sharp.

And even more perfect is Ms. Sonam Kapoor in a Gucci gown with a lacy visible bra.sonam kipoor
For me, this bra with that Max Mara suit may well have pushed the look into “Hey, she got away with it!” category.

Now, because it has come up so often in the conversation, let us engage the question of how much “hike” factor a visible or invisible bra bestows upon its wearer. Like it or not, this factor of fit and tailoring is an important detail any woman in the public eye has needed to consider — as central to preparing for an occasion as considering the length of a hemline. Lifting the ladies is an important part of the history of fashion and costuming, and I am sure that Miss Sarandon’s preferred level of lift is something that she is intentional about, as her chesticular assets have been a central part of her career since she debuted in “Rocky Horror Picture Show.” It was not without strategic aplomb that she Tweeted this iconic image from that film to Piers Morgan in response to his comments,

Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 6.52.18 PM

Brilliant. She knew exactly what she was doing and having unapologetic fun doing it. “Remember who I am!” For those who aren’t Twitter users (and why not?), #TBT is a social media tag that refers to “Throw Back Thursday,” when folks post old images of themselves or friends. The idea of a #TBT is to post something significantly aged as to elicit an “Awwww” from those who see it. In this case, Sarandon’s fans cheered at the sight of her in that much earlier bra — a BELOVED of the generations bra — and “loved” the image in the many thousands and retweeted the image at least 5,000 times.

A great moment of attention for a great actress, and for us, a teaching moment in how tricky it is for anyone to make unconventional sartorial choices during rites of passage.

For us, though, any time we’re standing at a podium or being framed in a photograph as a centerpoint for any rite of passage (think wedding photos), the primary visible element should never be our bare skin. That’s a rule you can frame and put over your mirror in the closet.