pastoral care

Social Media and Pastoral Ministry

By Rev. Mindi

In my last ministry call, I used to feel guilty if I checked Facebook during my office hours. That was a time when I posted pictures of my baby kiddo, checked in on what friends were saying and doing and scrolled through endless posts of cat pictures.

Flash forward eight years, and the guilt is gone, because so much of my pastoral ministry does take place on Facebook, along with other social media. Checking Facebook is how I know what is going on in the life of my congregants. When I see them on Sunday, or in passing during the week, I often ask how things are going, and often the response I hear is, “Fine, Pastor.” But through Facebook I know when anniversaries come up—and not always the celebratory ones, but the anniversaries of loved ones gone. I know when people are going through difficult times. People share struggles looking for new jobs or stress at home that they don’t always share in person with me. Through Facebook messages, people have shared prayer requests and urgent concerns. Through Twitter, community members have reached out to me and my church for prayer and support.

I still pick up the phone and call, and I still do personal visits, but I have had congregants admit to me that they are afraid of the pastor stopping by. I’ve had others tell me that they struggle with social anxiety and have difficulty picking up the phone and calling, or sometimes answering. Text messaging and other messaging services have helped me to connect in ways that are comfortable for others. I’ve had congregants ask me in-depth questions that may lead to a conversation over a cup of coffee later, but in the beginning, allow me to share links to articles and books (and sometimes an occasional Study Bible) that help them explore more deeply.

A friend of mine (who gave me permission to share) once reached out to me to share a prayer request—over the messaging system on Words With Friends. Even gaming can lead to pastoral conversations and ministry!

Many churches still have not “bought in” to doing social media. Many pastors I know don’t “friend” their congregants on Facebook for their own privacy issues; but through a church Facebook page messages can be received; through groups, information and prayer requests can be shared. There are other ways of maintaining one’s privacy and space while still participating in social media ministry. But by not doing social media, churches are missing out on how pastoral ministry is happening in the 21st century.

*Want to learn more? Join us on Tuesday evenings for the #chsocm (Church Social Media) Tweetchat at 9pmEST/6pmPST. Or check out the blog for transcripts of the #chsocm tweetchat at the Church Social Media blog: http://churchsocmed.blogspot.com/. Follow the hashtag #chsocm and ask questions—it is how I learned when I was starting out!

Rev. Mindi is now the Social Media Coordinator for the Evergreen Association of the American Baptist Churches, USA.

Broken . . . but not Shattered

[Best of [D]mergent 2015]

By Dr. Mark Pointdexter

Eighteen months ago, I thought things were pretty good in my life.  I was in my tenth year of serving a congregation that I loved and planned to retire from.  I was the moderator for the Indiana Region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and a member of our denomination’s General Board. I also was writing a weekly column for [D]mergent at the invitation of my friend, Derek Penwell.  In addition, I was in the very beginning stages of working on a book proposal.  Writing had always been a lifelong dream of mine.  My two children were also both entering their senior years. My daughter in high school.  My son in college.  Both were doing especially well academically and socially.  Like I said, I thought things were pretty good in my life.  

But then, eighteen months ago, I came home from church one Sunday and my wife of twenty-four years told me she was through with our marriage.  She wanted a divorce.  I knew things had been what I would describe as a “little rocky” for a few weeks, but I didn’t think it was anything we couldn’t work through.  That I wanted to work through.  But she didn’t.  There would be no attempt to restore what was broken.  No effort at marital counseling.  She was done.   The end of my marriage eighteen months ago was sudden and unexpected and it took me into a spiral of depression that I am still working my way out of.  

Though I am genetically predisposed to bouts of depression, nothing compared to the darkness I endured during the first six months after I was told the marriage was over.  It was an overwhelming sense of disorientation and confusion.  I could not believe what had happened.  I could not grasp the reality of the situation.  I kept thinking surely there would be a phone call that spoke of reconciliation, a note that promised we would try again, a knock on the door with her ready to move back into the house—moved by all the good memories and laughter we had shared over the past two and a half decades.  But none of that ever happened.  She was done.  And it didn’t matter what I wanted or hoped for.  My marriage was over and there was nothing I could do that would change that.

Totally distraught, I went to see my therapist who could see that I was in no condition to do ministry.  He suggested that I take a thirty day leave of absence and wrote a letter to the church suggesting it. The church agreed to grant me that time off.  The problem was after the thirty days, I was still in no condition to do ministry.  I tried for a couple of weeks, but I had no energy for it.  My own faith had taken a huge hit by the divorce.  I was trying myself to figure out who I was now and what I believed. I wasn’t anywhere close to certain about my own faith journey, let alone helping anyone else with theirs.

Long and short of it, I resigned from the church that I loved.  I resigned from being the regional moderator.  I quit writing for [D]mergent.  I just couldn’t do it anymore.  I had lost my voice for preaching, my pen for writing, and my will to lead others.  I had no idea what I would do or how I would make it.  In a matter of a few months, I lost my marriage and my job—which meant as a pastor I lost my primary community of faith.  What I had gained was an avalanche of depression that took my energy, filled my mind with doubt and guilt, and very nearly took my life.  For the first six months after the break-up of my marriage, all I could think of was what a failure I had become. 

I started taking anti-depressants.  I continued to see a therapist on a weekly basis.  But the darkness for me was overwhelming and other kinds of treatment had to be tried as well.  As the depression gripped me deeper and more fully, no matter what treatment seemed to be tried, I wondered if I was going to make it out of the hell that I had descended into. 

Since, I am writing this article you know that I did make it out, at least part of the way, but before I tell you how that happened, I simply want to say that the reason I am writing this article is because I am one of the tens of millions of Americans who suffer from the mental illness known as depression.  Though it does not by any means describe the totality of who I am, when I am in its fierce grip, it can be utterly consuming of who I am.  It’s a battle for me.  I know it is a battle others fight as well, including other ministers.  By giving voice to my own struggle I hope others can learn they did not walk alone or live in fear that other’s might know they are in this specific battle of the mind.

I have heard the story several times that before he was President, Abraham Lincoln once spent six months in bed suffering from melancholia (depression).  I always thought that was an excessive amount of time, but now I am more understanding of those who take to bed for a long time.  It was six months after the ending of my marriage before I was beginning to feel like I was on the road back to good health. Here’s a few of the things that benefited me most.

1. I realized my depression was accompanied by a deep sense of grief and loss.  I had to let myself experience that grief because the loss was real.  Fortunately, I had family members and friends who were willing to grieve with me and let me talk as much as I needed to.  My sister, a couple of friends from seminary, some people from the church I served all stayed in contact with me and gave me the companionship and space I needed.  I had lost my primary community of faith, but I had another faith group that was undergirding me with their prayers and support.

2. My children accepted for a while a different role in my life.  I had done my best to be a good parent to them, but honestly for those first six months, I had trouble being anything for anyone including a parent to my children.  My son and daughter, 21 and 17 at the time, took on the role of care-givers to me. They made certain I took my medicines and went to my therapy appointments.  They even drove me to the therapies that required I have someone else drive me home.  It also helped that my daughter, after a year and half at a residential high school, came back home to live with me for her final semester.  Her presence took away a lot of the loneliness. 

3. I decided I had to move on.  Though I didn’t make the decision, the decision was made to end the marriage.  I had no choice but to accept the reality of that situation.  It took me six months to get there, but finally I did.   

After six months, I was well enough to put my relocation papers out looking for another congregation to serve.  It didn’t take long before I was getting some calls and interviews.  Which helped with my diminished self-esteem.  And just about the time the money was going to run out, I got a call to serve a church in Virginia and I am having a blast in this congregation.  I am developing a love for them like the one I had for my previous congregation.  I’m not back to where I was before my life changed so drastically but I am headed back that way.  I would give me about 75-80 percent on the recovery scale.  I am back to writing sermons and doing pastoral calling and attending meetings. I’m back to working at the homeless shelter and helping those in need whatever way I can.  I’m back to the work of a pastor.  

I still have work to do.  Most importantly, I’ve preached dozens of sermons in my life about the importance of forgiveness in the Christian journey, I’m still trying to discover its role in this situation.  I would appreciate your prayers as I learn that lesson.

There is, of course, much more to the story than I have shared here, both to the end of the marriage and my battle with the depression that followed.  But I wanted briefly to relate to anyone who might be going through their own battle with depression.  The darkness can be overcome through time, hard work and the conscious decision that it won’t win.  You need not be ashamed of your battle or be afraid to speak of it.  Confront it as honestly as you need to and allow your friends to care for you.  

Peace,

Dr. Mark E. Poindexter

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.


Breaks and Interruptions

By Rev. Mindi

I haven’t written something new for Dmergent since before Christmas. I was all set, after the holiday break and our “Best of 2014” series to write something new on January 6th, Epiphany.

Then my son fell and broke his ankle at school. On Epiphany. He gets the cast off on—you guessed it—Ash Wednesday. He’s definitely a PK.

On those first six days of the New Year, I had grandiose plans. I and another clergy friend launched autismandchurch.com, a new blog about autism and church that incorporates personal stories, resources and reflections, from both family members of people with autism along with individuals on the autism spectrum. I was going to try to blog almost every day, and I started thinking about ideas to write here… and then the break happened.

When I was in high school, discerning a call to ministry, my pastor would sometimes bring me to the local clergy text study. I remember the Lutheran pastor in our town say once to me, “A day in pastoral ministry is a series of interruptions.” How true. How many times I have sat down to work on the worship service and received a call from a member who needed to speak to me. A person drops by the office in need of assistance. The office administrator needs the Call to Worship for the bulletin. A series of interruptions.

There is no time for a pastor to have a personal crisis, but here we were, on Epiphany, waiting for hours in the emergency room for xrays, for results from radiology, for pain medication that never came, for a referral to Children’s, for discharge papers. My husband had to come home early and join me at the hospital while we waited for all the news and instructions. Twenty-four hours later, we were at our son’s orthopedist appointment at Children’s, breathing a sigh of relief that our son would not have to have surgery, and that he would spend six weeks in a hard cast, and six weeks from that day will be Ash Wednesday. The entire Season After Epiphany will be marked by a green and purple striped cast for this clergy family.

But what I had forgotten, and was reminded so beautifully by my congregation, is that people are always praying for us. A wonderful card came for AJ the very next day. The member who runs the prayer chain called me on the way home from the hospital to see how AJ was doing. Others sent text messages and Facebook messages. People celebrated when he came to church on Sunday in his wheelchair. We were prayed for and cared for by the congregation.

Almost six-and-a-half years ago, one week after giving birth to AJ, I was rushed to the emergency room because I had an infection after my C-section. As I was admitted to the hospital and given a room, the head nurse on the floor that day was a church member. She came to greet me as I was rolled in and said, “I saw the name on the chart and began to pray.”

What happened next still brings me to tears. She made sure we were comfortable in our room, showed JC where the coffee was at the nurse’s station and to help himself, made sure we had everything we needed for AJ and then turned things over to another nurse. Instead of being my nurse, she asked, “Pastor, can I pray for you?” And she took my hand and JC’s hand and prayed for me, for AJ and JC. She was strong, and certain, and was a better chaplain that I could have been to a patient that day. She took the priesthood of all believers seriously, and made sure my spiritual needs were cared for while the other nurse took care of any medical needs.

Pastors and leaders, we need to remember to let ourselves be ministered to, as well as our families. We need to know that interruptions are going to happen, and that sometimes we need to let go, and let someone else minister to us. As we enter 2015 (three weeks in now, I realize), may we learn to let go a little easier, and let others minister to us, and with us.

Pastoral Care to Families of Children With Disabilities

By Rev. Mindi

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, October is Disability Awareness Month. Being both clergy and a parent of a child with a disability, I thought I would share some of my experience for other clergy and church leaders in terms of pastoral care to families of a child with a disability.

When, at twenty months old, our son AJ stopped talking completely, we knew something was wrong. Our son had never said much—just “Hi,” “Uh-oh,” and “Mama.” But he knew at least twenty baby signs, and he would pick a sign up in a day, such as “more” and “all done” and “milk.” But this all stopped by the time he was twenty months old. At twenty-two months he began speech therapy and continues to receive speech therapy today at the age of six.

 

When AJ was three, we received the life-changing diagnosis of autism. I didn’t know what to do, or what to think. I was completely overwhelmed by the amount of information on the internet and in bookstores, much of it contradictory. We tried different diets, we tried different supplements, but nothing really changed AJ’s social or behavioral patterns.

A good friend of mine who has a child with a disability gave me some advice: I needed to grieve the child I had lost. It sounds harsh. My child did not die, they just received a diagnosis, a medical categorization, but my child had not changed from who they were. But at the same time, she was absolutely right. I needed to grieve my own dreams and hopes for my child, now lost probably forever. My child will most likely not grow up to be a great scholar or star quarterback or Olympic swimmer.

The truth is, most of our kids don’t grow up to be those things. At some point, our dreams as parents have to die and we have to mourn their passing, but we usually have a lot more time to recognize it. Parents of children with disabilities or life-changing illnesses have to make this leap a lot earlier and a lot faster: we have to grieve, and then we have to accept our children.

But society around us is very slow to catch up. I cannot tell you how many well-intentioned people have told us “just look at Temple Grandin!” Very few children with autism grow up to be like Temple Grandin or have the resources her mother had when Temple was a child, to attend private school, to have a full-time nanny, to be sent to an alternative boarding school as a teen. Most of us do not have those kind of resources available. And even those with good financial resources cannot always expect that their child will develop and grow the same way. The mantra is, “If you’ve met one child on the autism spectrum, you have met one child on the autism spectrum.” Every child is unique.

The truth is as a society we like to gloss over the challenges and difficulties many people face, with good intentions: we want to cheer them up, we want them to find hope, and somehow we think that our words will bring that. Hearing so many times, “He’ll be all right,” “He’ll grow out of it,” “He’ll catch up,” does not help me at all. It’s true he will be all right, no matter what his diagnosis or ability. It is not true that he will grow out of it. And I do not know whether or not he will catch up, and neither will you, because I am guessing you are not an expert in autism spectrum disorder. 

What is helpful is hearing, “That must be hard,” or “Thank you for sharing that with me,” when I or another parent of a child with a disability shares what they are going through. Also, silence is also acceptable. Just having someone to listen as we struggle and advocate and support our children is more than society often gives us.

I am a glass half-full kind of person. I still have a lot of hope for my son. Recently he is starting to verbalize more, repeating words and phrases from TV shows and songs for the most part, but he is using some of it in context. He seems to understand what he is being asked a lot more than he used to. He uses an assistive communication device (currently an iPad with speech software) to make his requests known and sometimes to comment on things that he likes. He also spells out words and is trying to read more. I have hope. Maybe someday he will go to college. Maybe someday I won’t have to buy large diapers in bulk. Maybe he will still live at home the rest of his life or have to live in an adult assisted living facility. And all of that is fine. One step at a time. 

Thank you for listening to me. Please be sure to listen to other parents of children with disabilities.

My son spelled this out in my office one day. I know that I have to be his voice, until he can speak for himself.

My son spelled this out in my office one day. I know that I have to be his voice, until he can speak for himself.