clergy

The Best Darn Continuing Education Event You Will Ever Attend

By Rev. Mindi

A few years ago, some of the people I follow on Twitter started using the hashtag #unco. I asked what it was, and that was the first I heard of the UnConference, a time when clergy and other church leaders can gather together, share ideas, and dream together of what creative ministry could be. At first, I thought, “that sounds nice, but I have so many denominational responsibilities and other conferences I want to go to, I don’t think I can fit another in.”

Then I learned that the UnConference isn’t really a conference (re-read the name). There are hosts and organizers, but no keynote speakers. We all bring something. We all come away with something. We all participate and learn and teach together. I started thinking that this might be something I’d really like—a group of colleagues to hang out with and share stories and insights. After all, isn’t that the best part of conferences—the after-hours when you get together and talk, not the hours of listening to a keynote (even if they are great speakers)?

However, I learned even more: this was something you could bring your kids to! Say WHAT?! They have KidUnco. Kids have their own times to participate so you can go to breakout sessions and learn and chat together. Or, you can bring your kiddo with you if you want to. And there is free time to explore, and we all stay in the same place together so you can hang out with other adults when your kiddo goes to sleep. Unlike denominational conferences where you have to go to bed when your kiddo goes to bed because you’re in a hotel floors and doors away, you are right there.

The cost is way, way less than any conference I ever paid for. Right in line with a lot of denominational continuing education scholarships, too. And they have two locations: East (at Stony Point, New York) and West (at San Francisco Theological Seminary in California). East is May 16th through 18th this year (West is in October; we are still waiting to confirm exact dates).

I learned more in the first fifteen minutes in my first UNCO breakout on finances (called “Show Me The Money”) than I did in the required seminary course on church administration and stewardship. I learned more from my UNCO experiences than I have from any other continuing education opportunity. And, unlike most conferences and workshops, the work is continuing. Not like boring homework, but good work—new insights, ideas, and colleagues partnering with you. I have at least two groups that have continued, one since 2014 on funding, that meet monthly via video chat. I get to connect with my friends in ministry in real time and chat about what is going on and work on what I want to work on for my ministry.

All those @ names I was following that used the #unco hashtag? They became my friends, most of whom I have now met in real life. Most are not of my denomination, either, which is helpful. I have accountability, friendship, and encouragement in a very 21st century way that is helpful to who I am as a pastor and the ministry I am engaged with.

UNCO allows for creativity and collaborating. UNCO has given me a space in which I not only enjoy the work we are doing together but I also find rest and renewal. It’s both work and self-care all in one. And my clergy spouse and my kiddo get to come with me because it’s open for all of us.

Consider joining us at UNCO this year. For more information, visit www.unco.us. Registration for East is available, and West will be soon (those of us who go to the West location often like to say #westisbest, but to each their own). And follow #unco16 on social media! 

 

Reverent and Rule-Breaking: There's a Woman In the Pulpit

Available today at Skylight Paths Publishing, Amazon and Barnes and Noble

Available today at Skylight Paths Publishing, Amazon and Barnes and Noble

I have had the pleasure of being part of the RevGalBlogPals community, a group of active clergywomen bloggers, and the great honor of being a contributing author in the RevGals first collective book There’s a Woman In the Pulpit: Christian Clergywomen Share Their Hard Days, Holy Moments, and the Healing Power of Humor, which is being released today by Skylight Paths Publishing.

As Rev. Martha Spong, director of RevGalBlogPals and the editor of this work (as well as a seminary colleague and friend of mine), states in the introduction, “Our community includes people who are single and married and partnered and divorced and widowed, gay and straight, cis- and transgender, parents and not, clergy and clergy spouses and laypeople, with an age range of twenty-something to seventy-something…” and we come from a variety of denominations around the world. In short, you will not find another work with the personal voices of such a diverse group of clergy women.

Included in this diversity of clergy women’s personal stories are some common threads: the difficulty of following one’s call into ministry by a still male-dominated patriarchal church structure, sometimes calling women away from the denomination of their youth; the focus by others on what clergy women wear and look like; wrestling with theological questions and walking with people on their faith journeys. 

There are prayers and poetry, laments and reflections; tales of baptisms and communions, deaths and births, revelations and resolutions. The stories shared are often of those intimate moments in ministry: placing ashes upon the forehead of a stranger; praying for a dying stranger; baptizing a child; being in the ER when people are informed their loved ones are gone. These intimate moments are shared beautifully, and as I read them, renewed in me the understanding of God’s call to this important ministry I am part of as a Christian pastor.

As I read each woman’s story, I recognized my own frustrations and trying times of being a woman in ministry. I especially resonated with the tales of breaking the rules. Standing in the line of Jesus, women called into ministry have been called to break the rules—even if their denomination ordains women. We still are challenging a status quo, a cultural idea that men are ministers and women are not. And in subtler ways we have been breaking rules even in our liberal, affirming contexts, because the work is not done to welcome all and to follow Jesus’ call.

This is not just a book to give to the clergy woman you know, though she will enjoy it, I’m sure. This is the book to give to anyone considering the ministry. This is the book to give anyone who loves Jesus but isn’t sure about the church and its laundry list of rules. Guess what—some of the clergy aren’t so sure about those rules, either. Yes, there is a place for you. There’s a Woman in the Pulpit and she’s inviting you in.


Clergy Compensation, Debt, and Poverty

By Rev. Mindi

There have been a number of articles about clergy compensation in the past few days. First, there was this article in the Atlantic on the Vanishing of the Middle Class Clergy, followed by a response in the Christian Century “Pastors in Poverty” from Carol Howard Merritt, then a number of responses on several blogs and on Facebook.

I have only served in Disciples and American Baptist congregations. The region that my first two churches were in published a minimum suggested salary for starting pastors. My salary never met the minimum requirement in either church, and the first church I served was a well-known and well-off suburb church. The housing allowance offered did not even cover a studio apartment. Not only did I have to have roommates, but now out of seminary my student loans from college were due, and once meeting my rent, my share of the utilities (this was just electricity and heat and phone—we did not have cable), my student loans, my car payment and insurance—I had $175 left. That was to pay my food, my gas, and any other expenses. Thank God I did not have a medical emergency. Unfortunately, my used car did have a few repairs that had to be made. So what did I do? I opened a credit card.

With only $175 a month to live on after bills, I only paid the minimum on the credit card, meaning my debt accumulated drastically. I began babysitting on my days off to earn extra money. But by the time I met my husband, I had almost $4000 worth of credit card debt.

I did not have loans from seminary—I was fortunate enough to not only have great financial aid from my seminary, but the wonderful financial aid officer at my seminary would put a little note in my box about every single scholarship or grant opportunity she came across, and I applied for them all. I also worked two part-time jobs (three the year I did Field Education, as I received a stipend for Field Ed). My student loans were not from seminary, but from college.

Contrary to popular belief and even the line on the FAFSA (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form), there was no great contribution from my parents—my dad paid my application deposit, my mom paid my books every year and my plane tickets home—and that is because my parents were not able to contribute more than that.  I had two scholarships and a grant and I still had to take out loans to go to college. Poor begets poor. There is no leg up or hand out simply because we receive financial aid.

My salary and compensation package from my first church did not cover my expenses. After I graduated and later married my husband, also a seminarian with a lot of student debt from seminary, we had difficulty keeping up. We had to borrow from another credit card in order to pay taxes and make our bills. The good news was that we had a lower interest rate and therefore were able to borrow to pay off the higher interest rate cards I had borrowed on.

It wasn’t until my second calling that I finally received a salary that we could live on. And by living I mean we met our bills every month and we started to pay down the credit card debt. We even opened a savings account. Still, we did not meet the minimum salary requirement of my region.

Both churches had the ability to meet the minimum salary requirements, but chose not to for one main reason: they were afraid of running out of money. Budgets were tight and they were afraid that paying me too much would stretch them too thin. Never mind that in both locations, I made less than others with a college degree in our neighborhood (and I had a Master of Divinity). But both congregations were not in a do-or-die mode. Both had endowments, both had savings, both were running a balanced budget. But fear of not having enough made them hold back on their resources, unwilling to meet even the minimum recommendations.

Now I am serving part-time in a small American Baptist congregation in a different region. What I have seen happen over the last ten years is a dramatic decrease in salary and benefits across the country. More churches are unable to meet a minimum requirement because they cannot. Their endowments and savings have dried up.  I am serving a church that has simply run out of money. Members are no longer able to tithe what they used to.  The church needs a full-time pastor but cannot afford one. Instead, I give about the same amount of time I would to a full-time position, but receive only half-time pay. I am grateful my husband receives a full-time package, but it is by serving two churches to create a full-time position. And we have a son with a disability. It seems that we may never get out of the cycle of debt.

The truth is it is not only the pastors who are becoming poorer but the middle class is disappearing all around us. My church cannot afford to pay me a full-time salary and is being stretched thin on a half-time salary because most of the church cannot afford it any longer. Credit card debt is rising. The number of people in the community I serve that live on food stamps and other government resources is rising. While pastors are becoming poorer, so are all of the people around me.

This is not just a pastor problem, this is not just a church problem; this is a problem for us collectively as followers of Jesus: the poor are getting poorer. We can call upon churches to pay more but in many cases that is not possible. We can call upon our people to give more but in many cases that is not possible.

The question we should be asking is much more difficult: how do we tackle poverty? How do we tackle the cycle of debt that many individuals and families in America face today? We are not college kids taking out credit cards to buy stuff we can’t afford, as the media might suggest: we are people who go into debt in order to survive. We are not addressing this question adequately at all.

We have not worked towards a solution to the growth in poverty and debt. The poor are getting poorer, the rich are getting richer, which is the antithesis of Mary’s Magnificat: “He has filled the hungry with good things, and has sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:53).

We must work to alleviate poverty and debt, for all people. This must become a collective responsibility. Pastoral compensation must become a collective responsibility of the church, and poverty and debt must become a collective responsibility of us all. 

Educating Ourselves on Racism

By Rev. Mindi

Once again, I am going to make an assumption that most of the readers of this blog are white.

Once again, I am going to raise the issue that we need to educate ourselves (read: white congregations) on racism in America, that racism is still alive and well, and that we white Christians need to listen.

The events in Ferguson, Missouri go to show us that racial profiling and anti-blackness are systemic. This is not just the beliefs of a few racists in a town far away. This is a systemic way of thinking that infiltrates our education, economic and prison systems. You probably have heard about the school-to-prisons pipeline before.

Black leaders have been using Twitter and other social media to inform the public about what really is happening in Ferguson and what is continuing to happen. The hashtag #FergusonSyllabus has been an excellent and eye-opening tool to learn how to talk about systemic police violence towards black individuals. The resources being shared across the country include historic resources about slavery and Jim Crow, personal experiences of black women and black men, the history of police violence in the United States, and continued discourse in civil rights.

Our mainly-white congregations need to be using these resources too. First, clergy and lay leaders need to familiarize themselves with recent history and see that the latest events of police violence are part of a systemic history of violence towards black people in the United States. We need to understand ourselves and then bring this to our congregation, in Sunday School and in the pulpit.

Secondly, our congregations need to become involved in anti-racist work. Partnering with local organizations already doing this work is key. Find other churches to connect with as well. But do this after you have done the educational piece first.

Thirdly, listen. Hear all the stories that are often not front-page news. Listen to your community members. It is easy for us to ignore stories and reports when they don’t affect us. I know that I still fall short and fail to listen when I hear stories that affect my neighbors of color.

Fourthly, remember your Scriptures. Remember the stories of Joseph in prison, the Hebrew people in slavery, the exile and return. Remember Daniel and the Hebrew children. Remember Jesus. How does the Gospel speak in these times? Who does the Bible call us to listen to?

Don’t let this fade away as Ferguson fades from the news. Take up the challenge to remember Ferguson, to remember Michael Brown and keep his family in your prayers, and to work for justice for all.

Ten Tips for Cultivating Creativity in Ministry for 2014

By Rev. Mindi

I was going to write a great post to kick off the New Year, something like Ten Resolutions for the Church in 2014, but then there was this great post on Sojourners by Rev. Evan Dolive of 14 Things Your Church Can Do in 2014 that is pretty awesome. Way better than what I was coming up with. Plus, my creative capacity was zapped.

I was sick. On Christmas Eve, I had this tickle in my throat that I just thought was leftover from narrating the Christmas Pageant the previous Sunday. On Christmas Day I felt a little down, but just thought it was the after-Christmas-Eve energy crash. But no. I was full-blown sick by December 26th and it lasted right up until this past Monday, the end of my vacation time.

Clergy are suckers for overworking. And it’s not just the long hours of extra worship services and activities in Advent—it’s the overtaking of mental and physical energy. It’s exhaustion on many levels. As I went back to the office today for the first time in two weeks, I wondered why no one had reported a burglary. Papers strewn everywhere, books piled haphazardly on the floor, shepherd’s staffs and costume pieces thrown across the table.  As I picked up my child’s toys from the floor (I had been in the office on Sunday, and my son was with me) I tried to remember the last time I cleaned and organized my office. It was probably September, around Labor Day.

So as I get back into the swing of things, here are Ten Tips for Cultivating Creativity in Ministry for 2014.

1. Don’t get sick! Yes, if only there was clergy immunity. But apparently, if you eat healthy, exercise and sleep well, your body is much more able to fight off viruses.  The entire month of December I wasn’t eating well, eating lots of sugar (mmm, Christmas cookies!) and I didn’t exercise much. I remember many nights staying up after 11 and getting up around 5:30. I also can’t remember the last time I took a full day off.  So, first I would say start with yourself. Start by going to bed at a reasonable time and scheduling in exercise. Think about what you will eat for the entire day in the morning or the night before and make a plan for healthy living, day by day. Oh, and take your day off. Schedule them in on your calendar as if it was an appointment for yourself.

2. Clean up/declutter your work space. Spend a day, or at least a morning, decluttering. Clean up from last year. File away those papers you need, recycle what you don’t, create a clean workspace. Hang up a 2014 calendar. Buy a scented candle (if you like those sorts of things).  One thing I have in my office that I love are some cork boards covered with fabric, and on them I pin things such as inspirational quotes, Bible verses, pictures and other things that inspire me in my ministry.  I also keep a big three-ring binder in which I put articles or jot down sermon ideas when they come to me, or Bible study ideas, etc.

3. Plan an outing once a week. Don’t spend all your time in your workspace. Coffee shops and diners, pubs and libraries—all sorts of public spaces can also at times provide new inspiration and help you to connect to the community.  Sometimes all you need is a change of space for your mind to declutter.

4. Use your calendar.  Whether an old-fashioned calendar that hangs on your wall or Google calendars that sync to everything, use your calendar to plan out the year. Plan out sermon/worship themes. Plan out a visitation schedule (I know for me, one of the first things that can go is remembering my pastoral responsibility to visit others). Plan out vacation times and rest periods and reading weeks.

5. Turn your phone to silent once in a while. When you are decluttering, or writing a sermon, or brainstorming ideas, or praying, turn your phone to silent. That way it’s not actually off (vibrating still is distracting) and though you will miss a call you won’t miss it all day if you forget to turn the sound back on. We are connected to everything and part of our role as clergy is to foster connections. But sometimes we need to disconnect briefly.

6. Say no. I’m the first to overcommit to things and become overwhelmed. I have to learn to say no, even to others in the church. Some things are not my responsibility or should not be.  We have to learn to delegate to others and share the load. If we take it all, there is little room for creativity or inspiration.

7. Seek others. Hang out with other clergy or colleagues or friends. Don’t get together and talk shop. Go bowling or to a movie or out to dinner and talk about other things rather than ministry. Give yourself one hour, one space, in which you are not the pastor.  Time away helps you recharge and use other parts of your brain that sometimes are neglected in clergy life.

8. Read. Read books. Read articles. Read blogs. Read your Bible. Read a magazine. Do some reading every day. Remember those read-a-thon charts in elementary school? I don’t know about you, but we had, in almost every grade, some sort of reading challenge. In fourth grade we were challenged to read at least fifteen minutes a day and if everyone in the class read fifteen minutes a day all week we got an ice cream party. Everyone who read could earn points for rewards—and I always got the top rewards. In sixth grade, I read so much that I got every prize twice—I started over after finishing and won everything again. Yeah, I know. Overachiever. Anyway, back to the point—read fifteen minutes a day. Give yourself a treat at the end of the week if you finish—and if you don’t, start again the next week.

 

9. Don’t sweat it when it doesn’t come together.  I had planned today, my first full day back in the office, to begin in prayer, plan out themes, plan out my visitation schedule, make meal plans and an exercise schedule—and the water heater in the parsonage decided today was the day to break down and flood. Things happen. I spent much of my day on the phone taking care of the situation, which meant getting approval to replace the water heater, cleaning up the mess, and figuring out if they were going to shut off all our water to the parsonage or not which would necessitate a hotel stay (luckily, that turned out not to be the case, and I’m writing this knowing I will not get a shower in the morning).

10. Pray. I sadly know a lot of pastors who do not pray outside of Sunday morning. Everyone’s prayer practice is very different.  Some of us pray in the shower, some of us close the door (and turn our phone to silent!). Some of us pray for others out loud; others of us simply take deep breaths. Whatever it is you do, do it. Create a spiritual discipline that is yours and that you can keep. It will help remind you of where the source of your creative energy comes from, especially in those times you feel drained. Above everything else, find time every day to pray.

Happy New Year!

Clergy Appreciation Month

By Rev. Mindi 

In the past month, I have had five clergy friends think about quitting, look for a new (non-pastoral) job, or actually leave the church for good. And there have been a few times I have thought about joining them.


What is going on?

It’s Clergy Appreciation Month, but not a lot of clergy appreciation seems to be happening. Instead, it seems more like Clergy Expectation Month:

--Expectations of working a 9-5 work week plus evenings and Sundays

--Expectations of pleasing everyone, of not making waves, of getting along

--Expectations that if the pastor is effective, more people should be coming in the doors

--Expectations that pastors have a special gift to handle more stress than others

Perhaps I’m just exaggerating… or perhaps you have been there, too. With clergy salaries frozen or cut, and the cost of seminary education continuing to rise, I sometimes wonder if it’s worth it to tell those who are thinking about ministry to maybe think about some other way that they can serve God.

But I know the truth. When you are called, you know that if there was something else in life you could do that would make you happy, you’d do it. But there isn’t, and that’s why you are here. Because this is who you are.

So how do we make it through? How do we make it through the terrible meetings, the exhaustion, the emotional toil? How do we make it through when our blood pressure is (literally) rising to unhealthy levels because of the stress? How can we serve God best when we have these unrealistic expectations loaded onto our shoulders?

I’m not saying anything new here, but it needs to be said again. 

We feel so alone. We feel that there is no one we can turn to.

We cannot allow ourselves to become isolated.  And the best way to do that is to make sure that others aren’t isolated either.

Clergy friends, we need each other. We need prayer partners, we need accountability groups, we need retreats. We need respite care for ourselves. We need to be able to talk and laugh and cry and hug and care for each other.  We need to share our crisis of faith as well as our frustrations about church life. But most of all, we need to lift up one another, to listen to one another, and be there for one another.

But I think we need to take it a step further. I know that in this last move, I have had a hard time finding clergy groups to be a part of.  Within my own denomination there are groups, but I’m more removed from the urban center so there are few near me. I’m also limited because I’m part-time and have other community events, parenthood and other commitments. But I’ve never been invited by another local clergy person outside of my denomination even for coffee. I have introduced myself to a few clergy members, but nothing has ever come of it. It’s been easier to be isolated than ever before, it seems.

But then I get that green light on my email and see that there is a Google Hangout of clergy friends from back in Oklahoma, or a Skype call from clergy back in Massachusetts.  I receive a prayer card in the mail from a retired clergy member I knew when I started in ministry, and that Facebook message that says, “Thinking of you.”  And I remember that I’m not alone.

Friends, we cannot be alone. We need each other. We need to know that there are those who will help us through the tough times. Perhaps if we can reach out to one another and help bear each other’s burdens a bit, we can slow down the thoughts of giving up, and instead give to each other. 

My prayers are with you.

It's the Most Frustrating Time of the Year

By Rev. Mindi

A Song for Pastors in October

 

It’s the most frustrating time of the year

With nominating committee meetings & telephone greetings
Saying “It’s just for one year,”
It’s the most hectic time of the year
It’s the busy, busiest season of all
With those budget shortfalls and stewardship calls

When you just hit a wall--
It’s the busy, busiest season of all 

There’ll be meetings galore
And complaining some more 
And talks of red lines of woe
There'll be letters too long
And announcements gone wrong 
Reminiscing of the church long ago

It's the most hectic time of the year 
Because when this is done 
Thanksgiving will come 
And then Advent is here-- 
It's the most hectic time of the year 

There'll be canvasing done 
(aren’t stewardship cards fun?)

And meetings running late into the night 
There'll be phone calls made 
And rejections delayed
As nominating tries to fill the board right 

It's the busy, busiest time of the year
Because when this is done 
Thanksgiving will come 
And Advent draws near 
It's the most busiest time 
It's the most hectic time 
It's the most tiring time 
It's the busy, busiest time—of the year!

 

(Clergy, take some self-care days, please!)

“Does God Keep You Up At Night?”

By Rev. Mindi

That was the slogan for the Conference on Ministry that I attended when I was a prospective student for seminary. I don’t remember paying attention to it all that much, except the fact for me was God was not keeping me up at night. I had known I was called to be a minister since I was thirteen. While I had wavered slightly in college, more from fear and less from doubt, I had always known I’d go on to seminary and sure enough, I even picked that school.

But what kept me up back then, and what keeps me up at night, are still the same things. And they’re not good things. They’re not even bad things such as war, poverty—even the Government Shutdown right now—that should cause me to feel sick to my stomach to the point of wanting to change the world. They’re the things that keep me from being a healthy person and a healthy pastor.

What keeps me up at night? Budgets. Student loans. Drama between two people. Miscommunications. Worrying about my son’s education. Thinking about how in the heck I will pay for college for my son when it is already more than twice what it was when I attended. Committee meetings turned sour. Health care. Retirement. Indigestion (probably related to some of those things).

What kept me up at night in college was the worry that I’d get through seminary and not find a church. Find I was un-call-able. Be ordained but not be able to pay off my college loans. How much debt I was leaving school with.  And while some of those things have faded away, much of it has remained.

It’s not God that keeps me up at night, but all the things that hold me back from God.  And it’s not even those things, it is the fear.

It’s a hard time to be clergy. Many of us are going to part-time positions and try to balance work and home life and all the while, we still have the same student loans to pay along with other bills, and with tuition rates going up, it’s not going to get better.

I preach about how fear is what holds us back from following God, and yet it is so hard for me to let go of my own fears. Conversations play over and over again in my mind. Bills come in and pile up by the toaster. What is it that I’m afraid of?

Failing.

Afraid of not having enough to make it through. Afraid of letting down my congregation or my family. Afraid of letting down myself (“I should have written that book by now and have paid off my debt by now!”) Afraid of not living up to some standard.

That’s not God keeping me up at night.  I don’t believe for a second God thinks I’m a failure, or thinks I don’t do enough, or thinks I’m not good enough. 

Friends, it’s high time we let go of the standards set before us.  We are going to be in debt. We are going to struggle with bills. Ministry is a tough place and budgets are tight.  But we need to know that God does not see us as failures.  Instead, I’m sure God sees new opportunities and possibilities.

I sorta wish it was God keeping me up at night, telling me that there are hungry people in my neighborhood, homeless right down the street. I wish I was kept up at night because of the war in Syria (which the news seems to have conveniently forgotten) or those who are affected directly because of the shutdown. I wish I could turn to seeing what needs to be done in the world, instead of looking only at myself.

Even then, however, I’m sure God would want us to see the possibilities and the opportunities, and not to beat ourselves up about it.  Not getting any sleep doesn’t help anyone. Even Jesus slept at the back of the boat; so perhaps we, too, need to close our eyes to the worries of ministry around us and be refreshed, dreaming of the ways God is using us now, for I believe God is using us, exactly as we are.

Coming Out as a Christian Liberal

By Rev. Mindi

I attended and graduated from a small, liberal arts college in the Pacific Northwest, a college affiliated with my denomination.  In my first year, I became involved in all of the different Christian organizations on campus, ranging theologically from middle of the road to conservative. The few theologically liberal Christians on campus that I knew (that admitted to being Christian) didn’t attend most of the Christian organizations’ events or kept quiet about being theologically liberal most of the time, as I did for my first year.

But by my sophomore year I couldn’t keep quiet any longer. I didn’t like hiding part of myself just so I could feel like I belonged and fit in to Campus Crusade or any of the other groups. I grew up in a congregation that was Welcoming and Affirming of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning folks, and there was a group on campus that was the equivalent of a gay/straight alliance. In addition, my pastor had recently written a book about his journey as an evangelical pastor coming from a place of “love the sinner,” to full acceptance and affirmation of gay and lesbian people. I wanted to share this book with the group and hopefully find a place where I was welcome with my liberal Christian theology.

I attended my first meeting and after about a half hour, I finally introduced myself. When I mentioned I had brought copies of my pastor’s book for free, I heard a collective gasp as people’s eyes grew wide. I suddenly realized they thought I was there to condemn them and I quickly had to assure them that was not the case.  Once they knew I was not only an ally but convinced by my beliefs that God’s love meant a full inclusion of all people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, the tension left the room.  Following the meeting, several people stayed and we chatted about our religious backgrounds.

What followed was story after story of rejection. A Missouri Synod Lutheran who had faithfully attended church with her grandparents until she came out at seventeen and when the church rejected her, she rejected the church and Christianity. A Catholic who now identified as spiritual but not religious. An evangelical Christian who was now an atheist because she had not experienced love from Christians in the way she imagined love was supposed to be.  Story after story after story. 

And finally, a story of acceptance.  After almost everyone had left, a woman who identified as a Quaker and attended the local Friend’s meeting spoke to me. She spearheaded change in the food purchases by the campus cafeteria in regards to migrant worker’s rights and was involved in raising awareness of social issues on campus.  She shared that it was her trust in Jesus’ teachings in why she was involved so much in the local community.  But as far as I know, she never shared about her faith in that way outside of this small gathering, with the few who had not left.

It’s time for liberal Christians to come out and stand up. This week, Jason Collins came out (and I had to look up who he was because I’m not an NBA basketball fan). Sixteen years ago yesterday, Ellen DeGeneres came out on live TV. I was in college, junior year, at a “coming out” party put on by the student group and the one fraternity on campus that did not discriminate based on sexual orientation.  Every day, people come out to their families, to their pastors, to their bosses, to their friends.

How many liberal Christians still hide their beliefs, because they don’t want to rock the boat? How many liberal Christian pastors stay quiet when a member says a derogatory slur, making the excuse that “they are a long-term member, I can’t offend them,” or some other excuse? How many liberal Christian leaders say nothing because “the issue hasn’t come up in my congregation”? 

How many more stories will we continue to hear of people who have been rejected by their church, so they have rejected their church, their religion, or God, altogether?

It’s been seventeen years since I sat in that campus room and came out as a liberal, welcoming and affirming Christian. After that moment, I didn’t hold back from my friends my views. Eventually I dropped out of most of the campus Christian organizations, except for one, the Student Chaplain’s group. My junior year also marked the year I was not alone. While I had known a few other liberal Christians on campus involved in the different organizations, they had kept quiet in public about their views. But my junior year, two others from the Student Chaplain’s joined the gay/straight campus alliance group. And one eventually came out about her sexuality as well.  And that all happened because one night I was hanging out with members of the alliance group and these two Student Chaplains came up to me and I introduced them and invited them to join the alliance group.  

It’s been seventeen years, and yet I know so many pastors still afraid to come out as welcoming and affirming or open and affirming today. It’s long overdue, friends. Come on out. Stand up for equality and justice for all LGBT folks. Even if you don’t think your church is ready to join O&A or W&A yet, they aren’t going to get there at all unless they know their pastor will help lead the way. And you never know what youth is hanging on by a thread, needing to know not only that God loves them, but that God’s representatives in their community—their church and especially their pastor—love them too. Otherwise, I fear that more college campus alliance groups will be filled with the same stories mine was—stories of rejection and loss, instead of stories of Christ’s love, faith, and hope.

THE SECOND COMING - RECLAIMED

Regarding the future of the church,we have made a mistake.

It is not about Reformation II (or III or IV or V or...) It is about the Second Coming of Jesus

It is not about the coming death of the church. It is about the coming transformation of the church.

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The Second Coming is an inside joke.... ...To those who do not "get it" - The Second Coming is an apocalyptic view that awaits the arrival of a militant Jesus who will violently eliminate evil from the world. It makes for best-selling religious literary fiction, great cinematic special effects, and lousy-abusive-useless theology. ...To those who do "get it" - the joke is that Jesus is already here, peacefully present. Jesus "returns" for each person as they discover and embark on the life-path that Jesus walked. The "Second Coming" is personal - it is neither an apocalyptic nor a global event. The epiphany by the women on Easter morning was that, even though Jesus was executed and buried, the path walked by Jesus still exists - and by walking that same path, the message and example of Jesus is resurrected. Many find this epiphany to be transformative, their old self dies and a new transformed person is resurrected from a dead and buried former life. By walking the path - living The Way of Jesus - they continue and extend the path and message and life of Jesus. In doing so, our lives proclaim:

Jesus is arisen! Jesus is here! Jesus appears to us! Jesus walks with us! Jesus breaks bread with us! Jesus lives! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

The church must go the same way as Jesus. The church must die and be buried - and be reborn through an epiphanic resurrection and transformation. The church cannot be rescued. The church cannot be reformed. The church cannot evolve. At some point, the current church structure, structures, hierarchy, and institutions must be abandoned and demolished and replaced - existing only in our memory as a history lesson of how not to be church.

Those of us who are Baby Boomers or older - and regardless of whether we participate, oppose, or sit on the sidelines - the church we know, have worked so hard to grow and maintain, has been so important to us, and indeed which we love so much - that church is about to disappear, must disappear - and there is nothing we can do about it or should be able to do about it. As a statement of objective emotionless fact - the generations that come after us will re-create church in ways that will have little to do with church as it has existed since the end of WWII and even less with church as it has existed since the early 19th-century "Great Awakening" revival that birthed the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and other denominations. Do not be surprised when the future church finds it can exist only by abandoning and demolishing the structure, structures, hierarchy, and institutions of the 200-year-old American church in all its denominational and independent expressions, colors, sounds, textures, architecture, rituals, liturgies, and self-righteous self-assuredness. Do not be surprised when this abandonment and demolition is completed with no sense of sadness and no sense of loss. The National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. has been completed just in time to be abandoned.

There is no pleasure in being the last of your kind, a breed on the verge of extinction. However, the WWII "Greatest Generation" and their "Baby Boomer" kids will not leave quietly and not without generating rippling resonating repercussions as they pass into memory. We have been faithful generous tithers and - most dangerously and in a final fit of useless spite and exasperation - we will continue to support the church after we are gone. We are wealthy generations who have retained lawyers to write wills that are specific and enforceable. The problem for future lawyers, judges, CPAs, and juries will be how to allocate funds for a church that is closed, abandoned, or demolished. They will have few or no options for diverting those funds to a living congregation or a worthwhile project. Already, we can see that the generations who follow us do not tithe to churches. They support specific projects and missions. Unlike us, they do not want their giving to be for slogans and annual reports and push pins on a map. They want projects and missions that are tangible, immediate, and - most important - participatory. Where we gave strictly of our wealth, these next generations will give of themselves - of their time, talent, labor, and presence - as well as their treasure.

At the forefront of the church demolition will be recent college graduates, college students and the high school students that will follow them. They will abandon (are abandoning) Sunday morning worship, Sunday School, and congregational events as well as mainstream campus ministries, Campus Crusade, Youth for Christ, and any Christian organization that values exclusion over inclusion or has any hint of structural rigidity, hierarchical authority, membership requirements, or dogmatic rejection of or does not live the theology of universal justice and compassion infused with divine love and grace.

Expensive specific-purpose church structures will be replaced with the use of former stores, abandoned theatres, rented warehouses, and individual homes. The traditional Sunday morning worship will diminish and be replaced by conversations in food courts and bars and coffee shops, studies in quiet places inside and outdoors, meditational Taize gatherings, loud Praise concerts, other worship experiences yet to be created - all arranged through social media and sometimes occurring more as a flash mob experience than a scheduled service. Future church will occur while flowing with the stream of life, not alongside or outside of it as a stationary event.

The seminary/ordination track as well as clergy as a profession and calling will be vastly different from what it is now, if it exists at all. There is no justification for ministerial candidates having to bear the crushing burden of a 5-digit (6-digit?) school loan to earn the formal label/prefix "Rev." and to be eligible for employment in a shrinking system and a disappearing paradigm. The concept of clergy will not be reformed, it will be so revolutionized as to be re-created. Future clergy will see themselves as scholars and counselors and project/mission managers and will reject calls to be church/congregational CEOs or mega-entrepreneurs. Clergy will find that their calling includes a responsibility to freely and openly share their formal studies. Denominations that currently have multiple seminaries will collapse them into one. Some denominations will find it necessary to join together to form a cooperative organization to support a single ecumenical seminary. Many seminaries will disappear. One possibility is that ministerial candidates, from the beginning of their education, will serve a sponsoring and supportive congregation. Seminary scholars representing the various necessary ministerial disciplines will hold regional classes or, when the technology becomes inexpensively ubiquitous, hold synchronous video conferences.

A major contributing factor to the clerical revolution will be public access to church knowledge. In an age of Wiki sites, there is no justification for the Catholic church or any denomination or any church institution to have secret archives or to have historical documents or ancient biblical texts hidden from public view. Every document, every scroll, every parchment fragment must be scanned, indexed, hyperlinked, and its high-resolution digital image placed on-line within a single web site. The biblical texts, both Jewish and Christian and regardless of whether they are currently considered canonical, must be on-line and referenced to a source document or source documents as well as being referenced to differing source documents. What will be paperless is not the office, it will be knowledge.

One of the identifying marks of living The Way is fearlessness. In this context, it means not being afraid to die and not being afraid to live. This article is neither a vision nor a prediction, neither a warning nor an advocating. It is a call to the church to move confidently into the future and to fearlessly embrace and enable its coming death and resurrection and transformation and new life.

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Technology Postscript: As on-line conferencing and smart-phone/tablet technologies improve and take advantage of increasing transmission rates and bandwidth, virtual worship and gatherings will be normal, common, and expected. As the virtual world is populated and utilized, the realization will slowly sink in that while virtual connections are immediate and easy and global, virtual connections are better at enhancing human disconnectedness than creating human presence and are better at amplifying loneliness than creating community. At some point, it will be generally recognized that virtual connections are an inadequate and invalid replacement for the connections we form when we are in the presence of each other. No matter how much we tweet, text, Facebook, email, YouTube, or Skype - at some point we have to see each other in the same physical space, face-to-face, eyeball-to-eyeball. We relate best when our mutual presence is tangible and accessible. Personally and communally as well as psychologically and technologically, at some point the virtual connection will be deemed unacceptable and generally harmful and best reserved for situations that are emergencies or physically remote or both. We will have to discover that pixels and bits are always inferior to hugs and prayer circles.

...and that will be the next transformation.

Overworked, Underpaid, and Inadequately Advocating

Last week I wrote about clergy student loan debt and how for many congregations, they cannot afford to pay an adequate compensation that allows for both the high cost of living in some communities and the ability to pay back student loans.  This week, I’m going beyond compensation and into benefits.  But more specifically, I’m going to write about clergy self-care, as it is at the crux of this ongoing discussion.

If you are rolling your eyes at the topic of clergy self-care, I am guessing that you have read and heard enough about the topic and already practice good clergy self-care so these kind of discussions are just repetitions of what you already know.  You already practice good boundaries, stick to your days off, don’t answer the phone when you are not in the office and it’s not an emergency, take all your vacation and personal days, use all of your study days and go on retreats and spend enough time with your family and get enough sleep and eat right and exercise and have no stress-related illnesses or conditions.

Or, you are like many others, who think “yeah right” because there is no way you can work less than 70 hours a week, what the heck is a day off, and you can’t remember the last time you exercised or took a vacation in which you did not also work on a sermon or do your reading while visiting your parents.  Prayer time is what happens during worship on Sunday morning, and devotional reading is what happens when you are preparing for worship or Bible study.

But maybe I’m presumptuous and you aren’t rolling your eyes, but saying, “Yes, I hear you, but how can I get my church to hear you?”

One of the reasons I am writing about this now is that I have been thinking of my grandfather this week.  He passed away almost seventeen years ago at the age of sixty-seven.  He was a “retired” American Baptist minister who had to take early retirement due to complications of diabetes, but then worked as a pastor after his retirement part-time.  He died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but we all know that he worked himself to an early grave.  In the early years of his ministry he served two, sometimes three churches in a United Methodist circuit.  He worked part-time jobs at times along with pastoring churches to help make ends meet.  He did manage to take family vacations and some days off, but my mother remembers him getting up at 4 or 5AM on Sunday mornings to write his sermon because he didn’t get to it earlier in the week.

I love my grandfather and still look up to him in a lot of ways.  But I don’t want to be like him in my daily life.  I know a number of pastors who live unhealthy and hurried lives because they are trying to serve everyone at all times.

Getting back to benefits, clergy need to be better advocates for both salary and benefits.  We need to advocate for better healthcare (as a side note, I have never been offered a plan by a denominational or regional body that fully covers maternity care—I had to go find my own plan, but that’s a topic for the next article) for both ourselves and our family.  We need to advocate for full vacation time, at least four weeks a year.  We need to advocate for study time so we are not reading the latest theological and Biblical scholarship after we lie our head down at 10PM at night.  We need to advocate for retreat time, time for prayer and devotional reading as well as worship.  We also need to be our own advocates for our days off.  If we don’t take them, just like our vacation time, our churches may never notice.

And after you advocate for your benefits, use them!  Take your days off and your vacations. Spend time with your family and your friends (I know a lot of clergy who have no friends outside of the church or other clergy, because they don’t have the time to make friends).  Use your health benefits and schedule yearly physicals—don’t put off regular checkups.  Go on retreats, attend other church services rather than your own, and find time to pray.  Take time during the day to walk—even if its fifteen minutes—and use it to pray and get your exercise in.

Most importantly, though, we need to be our own advocates.  We need to advocate for each other as clergy and congregational leaders as well.  Otherwise, all too often, churches won’t notice that you haven’t taken a day off in months or that you didn’t take a vacation last summer or attend a retreat.  But they will notice a tired, short-tempered pastor.  But it all begins with you.  You have to make it, take it, and advocate for it.  And we clergy and church leaders need to work better together in advocating for our compensation and benefits—and then use them.