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.

You Are Your “Kind” Of Church

My friend and colleague Liz sent me this today and although I hooted with laughter, it’s true. What we wear, how we present ourselves, is an immediate visual significator of our church. This very blog got started eons ago when someone I love and respect was visiting church websites and confessed to me that she did not feel inclined to visit a nearby liberal religious community because the pastor was wearing a Guatemalan vest. She knew that her assessment was shallow, but it actually wasn’t. What it was, was instantaneous. She is an art teacher and finely attuned to visual language. What that pastor communicated with her hair, face and attire was not bad or wrong, it was, “We are the hippie church. I am freshly scrubbed, terminally earnest, someone who will not be relatable to you, and disconnected from media culture. I either don’t know about it or I don’t care. I am not culturally multi-lingual.”

Accurate? Maybe. Fair? Probably not.

But when it comes to image, we are the face of our institution and we don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

Hebrews 13:18 Plus Size Tops

When it comes to plus sizes, God BLESS the manufacturers for their consistency. They are still religiously devoted to swathing larger bodies in yards of ugly, garish fabrics in bizarrrely designed garments.
It’s Hebrews 13:18 in fashion form: “Jesus Christ. The same yesterday, today and forever.”

Meanwhile, how are you all? What a two years it has been.
I’d like to post more than a few times a year but I do have to figure out this new updated WordPress interface. Like you, I am absolutely fried from learning new tech skills, from decision fatigue, worry, anxiety, pivoting from format to format, general angst about reopening, masks, air circulation, room capacity, social distancing at coffee hour, whether we are having coffee hour, signage, sanitizers, carefully discussing how many verses of a hymn we should sing, should we sing at all, how to handle the offering, whether to handle the offering plates, and — what did I forget?

I have not forgotten you, clergy colleagues. I am coming up on the 25th anniversary of my ordination and 25th year of full time parish ministry and never in a million years could I have imagined what we are currently coping with.

Lenten love to you.

Leading Prayer: A Rant

Hello darlings,
First, a general note: I have been concerned about the irresponsible and awkward leading of prayers I have seen over the past several years at worship and retreats online and in person. It is clear to me that those in the Low Church traditions have not had instruction in the leading of public prayer and are not sure what to do with themselves either before or during the act. They are not sure how to compose or deliver a prayer. They don’t know how to introduce it with confidence, they do not know where to look or how to stand, and they default to a popular “breathe in, breathe out” structure that is often led clumsily or with a sense of precious piety that distracts one from being able to focus on actual breathing. (In other words, “Thanks, I hate it.”)

Meditation is not, despite what Unitarian Universalists seem to think, synonymous with prayer; nor should we use “meditation” as a euphemism for prayer to assuage religion-phobes. You must know the difference and lead clearly. I am firmly of the belief that meditations should be led in meditation sessions where all have gathered with shared expectation and willingness to spend the necessary time dedicated to focusing the breath. Corporate worship is not this setting. In further bitchy observations, the vocal inflections of those leading “visualizations” are often so distracting and the content of the visualizations so fanciful and sentimental as to irritate as many participants as it engages.

I continue to lament the lack of liturgical training for Unitarian Universalist aspirants to the ministry. There is so much education needed beyond How To Write and Deliver A Sermon. We have fallen into very gooey indulgences.

ALL THAT SAID, the upsetting experience I had with someone teaching a prayer practice this morning was not in a Unitarian Universalist context. It was a Christian retreat. I have created a 20-minute video discussing the matter in general and the specific experience of today. Enjoy!