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.

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.

Ready To Be Seen

I always get so much spiritual energy when I spend some time in New York City. A big part of the rush of inspiration comes from the break I get from relentless American slovenliness. Whereas these days many people are either too invested in their own comfort or mistakenly believe that to be gazed upon is always a form of oppression, New Yorkers understand that life is an art form, and put thought and effort accordingly into their attire.

Clergy far too often appear as though they got caught in public as opposed to having prepared themselves to be there in a leadership role. Here are some people I saw this past Saturday around Union Square who were READY to be seen!

[As always, click on the image to enlarge]

This was the first woman who claimed my attention. I snapped her photo to show that it is perfectly possible to be comfortable on a hot day while looking like an elegant adult and not a summer camper:

That’s a designer frock, but it doesn’t have to be (and also, clergy shouldn’t wear sheer clothing with visible bras — it’s a fashion that’s not for us). The point is that Flowy Frock Lady and her companion have thoughtfully curated entire outfits with accessories, pedicures, careful hair styling and comfortable, flat, pretty shoes. FFL is wearing an easy but elegant chignon — also not hard to accomplish. These women belong in 2019. Too many clergypeople do not.

Another head-to-toe look. A simple, tailored shirt dress, fantastic sandals. She’s dressed like an adult, with a jaunty head scarf (a classic style) for a hot summer day.

Again: “I just want to be comfortable!” Well, be comfortable in clothing that isn’t a wrinkled, stained mess.! A large houndstooth patterned dress is just as comfortable as shorts and a polo shirt, and will identify to the community that you understand the difference between professional identity and vacation or working-in-the-garden mode:

Jumpsuits are HUGE right now. This woman walked into the cafe like a burst of sunshine. Cool, chic, fun, and beautiful.

I took this young woman’s pic to show how much just one accessory can communicate that a person is put together and ready to mix and mingle in society with a sense of herself. Just one barrette. That’s all it took to polish her look! So if that one barrette is $30 and you wear it 30 times over several years, you’re getting your money’s worth. It’s worth it to invest in gorgeous pieces.

Dress as though you are ready, willing and happy to be seen in community!! Throwing on random garments that simply cover your body is not enough.

Halo Of Praise: Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney Giving The Schooler Lecture

As you create and learn to own your image, think beyond the merely serviceable (suit, skirt and blazer with One Obligatory Accessory) to curating a closet of garments that you love and with which you actually feel a connection.
It will change something ineffable about your presence, and all for the good.

Click to enlarge image

Here is the Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney, Professor of Hebrew Bible at Brite Divinity School and author of Womanist Midrash: A Reintroduction To The Woman Of The Torah and Of The Throne (Westminster) (among others), who does a lot of preaching, teaching and speaking gigs. I love following Wil’s looks because she loves and cares about clothes and invests in wonderful pieces through which I get a vicarious thrill.

Here is Dr. Wil giving the Schooler Lecture at Ohio at “Methesco” (Methodist Theological School in Ohio). I love the green against the natural wood– it all feels so organic and warm. Wil scored the green duster at a haute couture consignment shop and styled it as a wrap dress. It’s a substantial jersey fabric which gives it a rich, luxe feel and look. She paired it with a silk paisley scarf — and being paisely obsessed myself, I was thrilled to learn (from Wil) that paisley is an ancient representation of paradise in Muslim art. Now, we haven’t researched this so if you know more, please do tell.

Bold red lip in either Kat Von D or Sephora brand long-lasting lipcolor, and Wil also recommends Fenty lipstick for a nice red. And I’m sorry that you and I will never have hair this awesome but that’s life and God does not bestow hair blessings equally upon us all.

Peep the green onyx ring, too:

Striking.

These Totes Are Totes Appropriate For Ministry

MINISTERSES, there is absolutely no reason for you to be chugging along your day carrying a raggedy-ass tote bag. Save those stained, wrinkled, silly, juvenile (you know, farting unicorn decals or whatever) totes for the farmer’s market or the used book store. When you’re at work, have some dignity about your bag!

Here are two snappy revs I saw at General Assembly last year in Kansas City. The Rev. Dr. Kelly Murphy Mason and the Rev. Alison Miller, both of the metro NYC area, were rocking tailored, lovely totes and I asked if I could BTFM them and they said “sure!”

Please click on the images to enlarge.

Alison’s tote has a metallic interior, which is SNAZZ.

Really, nice totes are all over the place. Get one and use it and retire that beat-up ole thing with the faded tree goddess decal.