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.

Warm Up The Face

Ah, the agony! You purchase a lovely little product with SPF in it and it turns your face ghastly white! Such was the case with the products below, both drugstore brands. Titanium dioxide is the culprit, and I shoudl have known:

Pictured: Pacifica Ultra CC Cream Radiant Foundation SPF 17 (definitely tinted moisturizer consistency and coverage)
Burts Bees BB Cream SPF 15
IT cosmetics Ombre Radiance
Tarte Cosmetics Amazonian Clay Waterproof Bronzer in Park Avenue Princess (very light, buildable, wash of golden tan)

Click to enlarge images

Bronzers to the rescue (because who wants to go to CVS and return a tinted moisturizer, or waste it?)!

Don’t think of bronzers as being just for faking a tan or sun-kissed glow. They are terrific for just adding a bit of warmth to your face any time you’re feeling washed out by a product or by life. They are best used over foundation or tinted moisturizer but can also be worn over bare skin for a quick glow-up, whatever your skin tone. Definitely read some reviews before purchasing online, or ask for help in the store because a lot of bronzers can come out quite orangey. It’s worth doing some research. Tons of good brands make a powder or cream bronzer, so there’s definitely one out there for you.

Use a fluffy brush and apply to your hair line and temples, sweep under your cheekbones, the jawline and chin. If you want to deepen the color, keep building little by little. I apply a pop of blush to my cheekbones so I don’t look too monochromatic and sweep it up into my hairline – you don’t want to create blush circles just on the apples of your cheeks.

I won’t repurchase these creams but will valiantly continue my quest to find a good SPF product with a bit of coverage that isn’t as heavy-duty as the serious unguents I use in the summer (which are a whole ‘nuther story!).

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I am wearing Burts Bees BB Cream in Light, Tarte Amazonian Clay Bronzer in Park Avenue Princess. Lip color by JOAH, eyebrows by Morphe, eye make up by Korres and Nabla, and blush by Colourpop. All cruelty free products. MWAH!

Pandemic Fall-Out and Masks

Greetings, darlings.

What weirdness abounds!
Thanks be to God for seeing us through this far. If you are reading this, you may be serving in parish ministry and if you are, congratulations for surviving. Friends in the search and settlement and clergy coaching business, and news about religion in America, plus many conversations with clergy colleagues, inform me that this is an unprecedented time of resignation from parish positions. I want to talk more about that later and especially to create a space for the sharing of anonymous testimonials that have led to your decisions to leave your ministry positions or to pursue other kinds of work entirely.

I have heard too many stories over the past months of pastors being forced out of their pulpits by anxious congregations who expected their clergy to be able to pivot with no warning and no training and not enough support or grace to on-line worship leaders and crisis response expert. I am angry and devastated by the unfairness of these scapegoatings and shocked by the horrible acting out I have heard clergy share on social media. I am not an unconditional supporter of clergy: my loyalty is to God and the gathered people of God trying to live faithfully into our covenant with the divine, and I do not stand in defense of ministers out of professional courtesy or anything else. But I have seen too many worthy pastors with their heads on the block for deficiencies for which they should not be held entirely accountable, since those deficiencies are explicitly related to the “failure” to perform functions for which (say it again for the cheap seats) they had no preparation, no prior experience, minimal to no support, and no training. The heartlessness shown by some congregational leaders has been shocking and I use the term scapegoat very intentionally. It is obvious to me that some people just wanted to punish someone for their fear and frantic loss of control.

Shout out, praise hands and a shipment of chocolate to all the lay leaders in all ministry settings who were compassionate with each other and their clergy, who grieved what we all had to suspend without acting out about it, who served on COVID-safety task forces and tech teams and offered their time and expertise to church when their own lives were exceedingly stressful and who took the many frustrations we all experienced as we coped with this strange and scary territory in stride. God bless all of them.

THAT SAID, let us discuss masks!

I am so grateful to be back in the sanctuary with my congregation, and although I did manage to learn a lot of video editing and online skills in 2020, leading worship on Zoom was a creative and psychic drain unlike anything else I have ever experienced in this work. I have certainly had seasons when it was a particular struggle to stay connected to the soul or to feel and articulate the living God, but there has not been anything remotely close to the demands of maintaining a preaching ministry online during a pandemic.

So I am just incredibly glad to be with the congregation even in masks, and even with all the protocols in place that are keeping us safer while denying us cherished fellowship traditions. I assume these measures are temporary and I will gladly endure them rather than live in isolation trying desperately to connect with people over Zoom.

I get tested weekly and am of COURSE vaccinated. Our first week back, I did not remove my mask. Let’s take a look. Click to enlarge

Nice satin pink, cone shape didn’t rest on my face but it was actually much hotter than a surgical mask and I had to really project the whole service. Overall, though, workable. Then the choir and the congregation encouraged me to remove the mask when I speak. I wear an ear-worn microphone so I had that, and the mask ear loops and occasional use of reading glasses to deal with. I decided not to remove the mask entirely but to pull it under my chin. The result is definitely an “Oh honey, no” look. Is that a FEED BAG?

Click to enlarge

So this doesn’t work, and the only solution is going to have to be to remove the whole thing for the sermon. I don’t mind the chinstrap silliness for some of the service but I think it’s distracting enough to need a fix for the sermon. I have heard of preachers letting the mask dangle off of one ear but that doesn’t seem like a good idea and also possibly a fire hazard.

What are you all doing with your masks?

Kiss of peace, PB

BTFM Will Be Back!

Hello dumplings!

I have been too busy and this site has had glitchy tech issues, but I have been receiving so many questions and missives from you that MUST BE DISCUSSED.

Times are very hard in ministry right now and we all need a dose of PeaceBang’s confidence in US. For now, listen to Miss Julie Andrews skip and warble as she leaves the convent for a wonderful unpaid ministry position taking care of Captain Von Trapp’s annoying children!

Send In The Clowns

Hello darlings,
I know it has been a long time but I am still here for you, always! Until the moon is no more.
What a time we are having, have had, will have, have haven, half caff, half-mast, paff maff.
I’m okay, I really am.

Like you, I am doing the Reopening Cha-Cha. What a dans macabre. Flinging ourselves all about while a pandemic rages on, even though so many are vaccinated and I hope you all are at this point.
At my own church we are navigating between the CDC and Massachusetts Department of Health guidelines, our own congregation’s needs, watching all the websites every day, and doing some hybrid things. Everyone is exhausted. My brain is on two speeds: slow and stop.

I am taking off the entire month of July and trying to prepare for that, while realizing that my own sense of expectations may be unrealistic. So much to consider. How are you faring?

ANYHOO, what better to do when ministry mind needs a break than to take a look-see around the internet fash scene! What hideous new styles are the retailers unleashing from the depths of Clothing Hell that they hope we will purchase and wear upon our bodies?

It is going to be very interesting to see how everyone dresses in the post-COVID environment. We may be seeing all kinds of interesting choices: from party dresses at the coffee shop to Extreme Shlub from folks who won’t be ready to give up stay-at-home wear.

Pigeons, we need to hoist ourselves out of our leggings and shearling-lined mocassins to prepare for being seen head-to-foot again. I am having my hair colored tomorrow, and have been doing an inventory of my closet. What fits? What no longer feels like “me?” Do I have funeral and christening and wedding clothing that is clean, pressed and ready to go for the summer months? Am I taking care of my nails (including toenails)? I have been in isolation for a year – what do I need to do for myself to feel confident and comfortable in incarnate community again?

One thing I know I won’t do is allow my attraction to bright, happy colors lead me to Clown Stripe fabrics. I keep seeing primary color material that instantly evokes this
[Click to enlarge images!]

Lots and lots of color is your thing, by all means! Enjoy, dazzle us, celebrate the rainbow! There are so many more sophisticated ways to be a walking burst of color.

I am a fan of Gudrun Sjoden, a Swedish designer who uses sustainable and ethical methods in sourcing and producing her textiles:

I do hope that you’ll have a sense of creativity in this season. We are in mourning, but we cannot look like death warmed over. We are a resurrection people, and whether or not we feel up to it, our people are looking to us to bring hope and new life. Right now, we must all seek the support we need in order to be up to that charge.

Perhaps soon we can talk about how many clergy do not feel up to that charge, and are subsequently leaving the ministry. But that is a tale for another time. For now, let’s just not send in the clowns.

Kiss of peace!