June 29, 2010

Still want to do away with the guarenteed appointment?

Susan and I became friends eight years ago when she was appointed as the associate pastor at the church my husband serves. We didn't get together for coffee, but conversations between church services and at church events kept us connected.

Susan moved three years ago to another church. Her husband died in April, and now she is moving again to a church closer to family, especially her elderly mother.

Susan told me about the new pastor, a woman, moving to her church. I knew that this pastor had moved under two years ago to a great church in a town of 22,000. When I asked Susan why the other woman had to move so soon, she told me, "The congregation did not accept a woman as pastor. In addition, neither the church or community embraced the pastor's two adopted bi-racial children who were in elementary school."

I was heart-broken and angry. I thought that any negative feelings toward women pastors was way in the past -- but not embracing bi-racial children -- children are children -- people are people. I wanted to jump in my car, drive to the community and read the gospel to them -- and maybe I also need to add prayer.

God there are times that we hear about those who are prejudiced and unwelcoming to all who live in your kingdom. Enter their hearts, soften their emotions, so that all may feel your presence. Amen.

Jacquie Reed
Fishers, Indiana

June 28, 2010

More Stress with No Commitment from Our Church

In a recent UM Reporter, I couldn't help but notice two adjacent articles. Separately they were newsworthy, but taken together, a bit surprising. The first article, funded by Duke, had to do with clergy health problems; i.e., clergy's poor health reflects inordinate amounts of stress--no big surprise to any of us. The second article had to do with the possible elimination of the guaranteed appointment.

Think about it. On one hand clergy are over-worked, over-stressed, criticized for poor self care, and under-paid. Then on the other hand, the Church says, "Let's add to pastors' burdens by eliminating their guaranteed appointment. Let's let them worry every year that they might not have a job or home or health insurance for their family the next year."

Seems to me that the Church demands 100% commitment from pastors but is unwilling to show that same commitment to her pastors and their families.

Frankly, it makes me angry. I don't know about you, but I'm not happy for my kids or me to be collateral damage when the Church fails to be a faithful partner.


June 25, 2010

Loving and Being Loved by Special People in the Church

Today, Mike, (my husband) had the funeral for 80 year-old Betty, a beloved and longtime member of the congregation. Betty fell last week and broke her hip. Unfortunately, her body did not respond well to the anesthetic, and she died three days later.

I am so sad that Betty died -- in fact, I told Mike that I had to see her at the funeral home before I could believe she was gone.

Betty never missed church. She and her friend, Mary, folded the bulletins every Friday. Betty was one of the leaders of the quilting group that met Monday afternoon. When I occasionally visited the quilters, Betty was always so eager to show me her latest project.

Betty, however, was one of my energizing persons. It seems that every Sunday I have numerous people come and weigh me down, telling me about their challenges. I like to welcome these people, but sometimes I leave church exhausted. Betty also came to me every Sunday. I began asking her about her latest quilting project, and once she told me that her daughter was also named Jackie, that sealed our friendship.

What makes Betty stand out for me is that she always asked what I was doing. She was interested in me as a person. She knew that I was interested in her and she reciprocated. Not many people do that.

Last Sunday I kept looking for Betty in "her pew." I looked for her after church. I just couldn't believe that "my energizer Betty" was gone. I'll really miss Betty for her gift of presence to me. There have been so few through the years that stand out in the way she did.

May God comfort her family and friends who mourn her passing.

Jacquie Reed, Fishers, Indiana

June 24, 2010

First Impressions

Research has confirmed what most of us know--first impressions make a lasting difference.

A first impression is made within about 6-7 seconds. We have first impressions of our spouses, churches, the DS, friends, etc. Likewise, they have first impressions of us. First impressions count and cannot be easily undone.

So what can we do to make a good first impression? Here again, no big surprises.
1. Smile.
2. Be interested in others.
3. Walk with confidence.
4. Pray for God to accompany you.
5. Wear something comfortable.

Personally, when I am nervous my cold hands betray me. I've tried rubbing them, running them under warm water, relaxation exercises, but usually nothing works. I just pray that people will not notice my handshake and be won over by something else.

But the church also gives a first impression, which can be a valuable tool for you and your ministry. Because you see what visitors see. The first Sunday at our current church is a case in point. I was by myself, didn't really know which door to enter, had no idea where to go for Sunday School, and there was no one to ask. I figured that if the church didn't welcome me, and they knew I was coming, they probably weren't good a welcoming others. Needless to say, I mentioned that to my spouse and the church heard the issue and fixed the problem.

As some of us begin new appointments this Sunday, please know that the rest of us will pray that all goes well for you and that there are a multitude of great first impressions.


June 23, 2010

Need a Laugh?

If you need a laugh or want to hear some great stories, check out Jeanne Robertson on YouTube or ITunes or at JeanneRobertson.com.

Speaking to thousands of people annually, Jeanne Robertson utilizes her style to illustrate that a sense of humor is much more than a laughing matter. It is a strategy for success. Jeanne is also an active member of Front Street United Methodist Church in Burlington, North Carolina and on the Board of Trustees at Elon University. This former Miss North Carolina and Miss Congeniality winner in the Miss America Pageant, “Yearrrrrrrrrrrs ago,” uses her down-home Southern drawl and values to leave her audiences laughing and thinking.

She just did a fund raiser here in Nashville at Brentwood UMC and raised over $17,000 for flood victims.

You'll love her.


June 21, 2010

Are You Staying?

The Indiana Annual Conference ended last Sunday (June 13) following a service of ordination for elders and deacons. I went to church as usual and several people asked me, "Are you staying?" I was taken aback by the question, because I knew that if we were moving we would have found out one or two months ago.

I remember when Mike first began ministry in 1976, more experienced pastor's wives told me stories from the past where no one knew if he/she was moving until annual conference. The pastor then called the spouse, sharing the information that he/she was being placed in a new church. Moving date was two weeks later. These women (back then, there were very few women pastors) began a frenzied two week period of packing and doing all of those other tasks that a move involves.

I am so thankful that today there is much more time given to pack and say good-bye. When Mike had smaller churches, we were honored in various ways when notice arrived that we were staying. One church had a reception each year and gave us gifts. When Mike was assigned to a church on the south side of Indianapolis, the same man in the congregation stood up each year during the service and welcomed us back. Following his announcement, we were greeted with applause. These moments of affirmation were so encouraging and energizing.

"Are you staying?" What is your response? Happy to stay another year?

Jacquie Reed
Fishers, Indiana

June 18, 2010

Warning: It's a Small World

With many folks moving, I thought I'd share this warning.

After one of our moves, early in our ministry, I found out something the next minister's spouse said about me. It seems that she told one of her new friends in her new congregation that I didn't leave the parsonage very clean. Needless to say, I had a baby and did everything by myself. Even so, I thought I had left it in very good shape and a lot better than I had found it.

But to her standards, perhaps it should have been better. That's not the point. The point is that her new friend at her new congregation was my old friend at my old congregation. What she said went straight from her to me with our friend barely holding the thought for a minute. The new spouse had no idea that she was talking to my friend. Of course, I also wonder just how good a friend I had anyway to tell me something so hurtful.

It's been my experience that I have to be careful what I say and to whom in a church. You never know if your talking to someone's friend, cousin, or even work colleague. It's just that small a world, and I can't tell you have many times I've had to learn that lesson.

On the other side, my spouse grew up in the city where we are now. We regularly run into people he went to school with or had as a teacher, couch--there have even been a couple of old girl friends. So we hear lots of stuff from lots of sources, not just at church.

You can always be sure that what you say will get back to the person you're talking about. So when you move and start afresh at a new church, just be careful. It took a long time before that other pastor's wife and I made up and for me to get over that innocent remark she made to our "friend."

Happy Moving, Kathy

June 16, 2010

Just back from Annual Conference

Dear Friends, For me, Annual Conference is about reconnecting with friends and colleagues. This year the business part was meager, but some very deserving people received recognition and awards. The spouse lunch was great and pretty well attended. This year I sat next to a friend whose spouse is an active-duty chaplain in New Orleans, where they continue to struggle with the aftermaths of Hurricane Katrina and, now, the oil spill.

Annual Conference is more like a big family reunion than anything else. And it comes with all the same surprises and dysfunctions. It really is like a gathering of the clan of The United Methodist tribe, as our speaker Len Sweet reminded us.

This also struck me about Conference. Len Sweet painted a vivid picture of what the church can and should be. That perspective is helpful, because sometimes we only see the hard realities and the folks who get ground up by the system, left bleeding on the floor. But insight into what the church should be also makes how the church sometimes acts even more unbearable. Still, it's really all about Christian friendships and reaching out to find the Christ in others, even if He is only there with prevenient grace.

Grace, Kathy

How available is too available?

John Marshall Crowe sent this article by Tom Steagald in North Carolina.

Here’s a description of pastors you won’t hear every day: “A quivering mass of availability.”

Sound right? Maybe not. Could be you can’t always find your pastor when you try.

The description rings true to me, however. The phrase was coined by Will Willimon, a United Methodist bishop and one of the most acerbic wits you would ever care to meet. Willimon contends that most pastors are in fact too available, running here and there doing all sorts of stuff for all sorts of people — and most often at the expense of the prior and more important work of prayer and study.

For his part, John Wesley expected Methodist pastors to read for four hours every day — he believed that such prayerful study was the underpinning of all lasting ministry. If the pastor complained that he did not like to read, that she had more important things to do in caring for the flock, Wesley suggested they go back to their previous jobs. Sadly, a recent study suggests that most Methodist ministers do not read even one book a year! Why? They are too busy, too distracted — too available.

Now, study and prayer are not all pastors are called to do. Of course a minister is going to be at the hospital when a member has heart surgery. That does not mean we leave our sermon preparations or cancel Bible Study when someone is having an ingrown toenail removed.

Of course a minister is going to care for the home bound — but that does not mean the pastor should — as I did for almost two years — do all the errand-running and grocery-shopping and trash-removing for an elderly member (that, when others could have take a turn).

John Baillie, a Scotch Presbyterian scholar and pastor, offers a powerful cautionary word for ministers and other servants. He confesses in one of his prayers that often “my affection for my friends is only a refined form of caring for myself.” In short, Baillie says that our service to others is often, in truth, an expression of deep selfishness. His confession begs the question: How often do I do what I do, not just for the sake of the one I serve, but also in quivering dread of the anger that will come if I don’t? Or in quivering hope of the blessing that will come if I do: “Oh, preacher, you are so wonderful!”

Like everyone else, pastors enjoy the immediate gratification and emotional pay-off that come from services rendered. Unlike others, a pastor’s quivering may just be the shakes — a sign we need a quick fix to soothe our often unconfessed fear of irrelevance. But like all fixes, it is addictive.

Harder to delay gratification, to read and study. Hardest of all to pray — where there is almost never an emotional pay-off. Still, I seem to remember that Jesus was not always available. Got him in a bit of trouble now and then, but at least when he arrived he came prepared. After all, as Bill Hinson has said, “The person who is always available brings nothing with him when he comes.”

Dr. Tom Steagald is pastor of Lafayette Street United Methodist Church

June 14, 2010

Annual Conference Time (new poll)

For United Methodists, May and early June mean one thing--Annual Conferences! Here in Tennessee, ours is going on right now, which means my husband is staying at his parents' house for a couple days to be closer to the host church, and I'm doing the single parent thing for a couple days!

Last year, my hubby was being commissioned, so I went just for the big commissioning/ordination service. I have yet to attend a spouse's luncheon--not really my thing--so this year I won't be going at all.

How about you?

Take this week's poll in the sidebar to declare whether you're going to conference or not, or just for an event or two. Or, if you're not United Methodist (this blog is for you too--we're just sensing a majority here!) share that instead!

Happy holy conferencing!

June 10, 2010

Remember Who You Are

You've probably heard the story about the Mom who said, before her daughter left on a date, "Just remember who you are." I find these comforting words in many church situations.

Last Sunday during our "Joys and Concerns" time, the guest preacher (my spouse was away) followed the congregational tradition and asked if there were any birthdays or anniversaries. I raised my hand because we had just celebrated our anniversary. She called on me and made the appropriate comments, but it was clear that she didn't know that I was the pastor's wife. That was OK with me, but my friend, sitting next to me, started to protest, saying, "But she [the preacher] needs to say more, because you're..." I cut her off and said, "It's all good. Don't worry."

The whole incident was kinda funny to me, because I had so many different mixed feelings all at once. First, I was glad to be just another church member celebrating. Second, I was sad that my husband wasn't there to share the moment. But third, I was a little sorry that the preacher didn't make more of it.

There are times that being the pastor's wife makes me feel special, but then I have to remind myself of who I am. I'm not a role or a professional Christian. I'm not special because I'm somebody's spouse, but I am one blessed woman whose been married for all her adult life.

What about you? What reminds you of who you really are?

Grace, Kathy

June 8, 2010

Clergy Kids

While researching for a paper I'm writing, I found this interesting information thought you'd enjoy. It seems that clergy kids across denominational and even cultural lines experience pretty much the same things. And there are benefits as well as difficulties. Here is a brief summary, which is taken from interviews of adult children of clergy about growing up:

For clergy kids:
- Their parent was looked upon as a ‘person of God.’

- They have to cope with possible discrepancies between ‘front-stage’ and ‘back-stage’ behavior of their parents.

- They are public property, whether they like it or not; they are watched (or at least they have that impression) and they have to set an example for other kids. This feeling can lead either to rebellion or over-adjustment.

- As an unpaid extension piece of the ministry, they have to bear responsibility at a very young age.

- In many cases the family belongs to the local (intellectual and cultural) elite.

- Social, religious, moral, and cultural capital is abundant in the parsonage and is generously transmitted to them.

- Moving to another place every now and then forced clergy children to conquer their place under the sun again among peers.

- Developing an identity of their own is often a difficult and sometimes a very painful process. In their own view they remain the minister’s son or daughter too long.

- In spite of or thanks to their youth and education most clergy children do quite well as adults.

What is your experience or the experience of your children?


June 7, 2010

Listen to God and not Adversity

In morning devotionals, Charles Stanley and others hit on the point of my inadequacies and my uselessness to anybody -- definitely to God as well as to others, certainly to myself -- when I try to rely on my own power. Then, in another sector of meditation was the wanting to be get to some sort of secular comfort zone both in image (wanting to be be younger, better looking, popular) and desires (for power, sexual lusts, you name it). Charles Stanley used Psalm 127: 1-2 to get my attention.

Bottom line: I have to focus and ask God to mold and direct me.

Yes, God is faithful and is performing "life-saving" events in my life, not only saving my wife from either being seriously injured or killed in an auto accident the other day, but just saving a wretch like me in spite of myself.

In considering the beatitudes that Jesus addressed to me from the Sermon on the Mount, the Savior says:. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." I need to get more in the mercy business as I oftentimes have little or no mercy for others or myself.

I believe that God will give at least me the option of being more merciful if I give my attention and commitment to such groups like the Restore Ministries, those that surround me, and to His Almighty Presence through the Holy Spirit.

I just need to listen better to Him and not to all of the adversity that surrounds.

Joe Macupa,

(Joe's spouse is a deployed chaplain)

June 3, 2010

The More Things Change, the More they Stay the Same

Googling "umc guaranteed appointment female minority" just now, I came across the most fascinating article that ran in Christian Century in 1979. Titled "UMC’s Women Clergy: Sisterhood and Survival," it was primarily remarkable for how unremarkable it was. If not for the reference to the upcoming 1980 General Conference and the use of the word "retarded" to refer to a special-needs child, the piece could easily have been written this year--more than 30 years later!

There are more female clergy in the UMC today, and more of them are appointed to senior pastorates and large membership churches than in 1979, but the issues they face are all the same. Challenges to advancement. Concerns over acceptance in certain congregations. Lack of support or flexibility in pregnancy and childcare situations.

For our purposes on this blog, as clergy spouses, consider this paragraph:

“Clergy couples” -- with both husband and wife being ordained -- “are beginning to find their label oppressive,” said one workshop participant. It causes them to be regarded as an entity rather than as two pastors, and to be stereotyped as a placement problem. Coordinating the career moves of a couple -- whether they desire to serve a joint pastorate or separate parishes -- can be difficult. But cabinets have been slow to acknowledge the seriousness of the two-career couple problem when one of the members is clergy and one is nonclergy. When both are ministers, the church bears responsibility for placing them both in jobs -- generally within driving distance of their shared parsonage. But when only one partner is ordained, the church has no control over the other partner’s career, and often fails to take it into consideration. The assumption has been that when the minister must move, the spouse must follow. The system worked well for many years with men who had nonworking wives, or wives whose careers as nurses or schoolteachers were regarded as transportable from one town to another. The two-career-couple crunch often forces a wrenching decision: “Which career is more important?” The assumption that the male’s ambitions always take precedence is being questioned, and couples are wrestling with the sacrifices required when career goals conflict.

Thirty. Years. And yet so little seems to have changed.

June 1, 2010

Not Just 9-to-5 (New Poll!)

Pastors work a lot. (Duh!) Much of that is behind the scenes, leading parishioners to ask that ever-annoying question "So what do you do the rest of the week?"

Last week's poll revealed that many of our spouses don't even take an official day off! 35% said "if they're in town, they're on duty!" Fortunately, 41% do take one day off a week for some much-needed relaxation and family time.

My husband and I took this past Sunday off, spending the night in a hotel after our friends' wedding Saturday night and attended worship the next day at a church of another denomination. It was a refreshing break! Sometimes, I really wish we could be a "normal" couple, going to church together at a place of our own choosing and able to leave town for the weekend on a whim without months of advance notice and preparation! Oh, what life might be like if my husband were a "9-to-5er" like me! 40 or so hours a week, at a specific location (not hospital rooms and coffeeshops all over town!)

Which leads me to the question, how many hours a week does your spouse work?
Do you even know? I would be hard-pressed to make an estimate! (which is why there is an IDK option!)
Take this week's poll in the sidebar and let everybody know!

Retirement Repositioning

Throughout my adult life and ministry, I have been a hopeful and mostly positive person. In fact, “encouragement” shows up as one of my spiritual gifts for leadership and ministry on every profile. Therefore, I was understandably surprised at what happened to me in the early months of retirement.

My decision about retirement began with an intentional plan. I was blessed with good health and a reasonable amount of energy. I decided not to retire at sixty-two or even sixty-five as some of my colleagues had done. Mandatory retirement for United Methodist clergy was seventy years of age. I determined to stay until age sixty-eight—beyond the traditional age, but before I was “forced out” by the rules.

As my sixty-eighth birthday approached in mid-2007, I was ready. I had spent forty-three years under full-time appointment to three United Methodist churches. They very large church I had served for the past twenty-seven years had reached the stage where a healthy transition seemed both possible and appropriate. I announced my decision to retire in the early fall of 2006. The new season of life would begin on July 1, 2007. I sent letters to my bishop and church members without any conscious regret or reservation.

I knew the possibility of some uneasiness and even misgivings when I stepped away. I anticipated what it might be like to move out of leadership in a large church and out of the appointive process of our denomination. Yet I felt quite secure in my decision.

In the final month, I preached four sermons from biblical texts in the letters of Paul where he writes, “And now, finally, brothers and sisters...” I thought—perhaps with a little too much pride—the series of messages to be both clever and appropriate. For its part, the church was gracious and affirming. I could not have asked for better send-off recognition.

I was unprepared for much of what followed.

At first I felt a certain freedom—from a controlling schedule, administrative oversight, staffing issues, evening meetings, phone calls, and sermon writing. My wife, Elaine, and I left almost immediately for a week of vacation in Washington D.C. That first Sunday of retirement, we attended worship at the National Cathedral and heard a marvelous, challenging, and well-delivered message by the lead pastor of the Cathedral. I realized I was not sleeping well at night; but I attributed that experience to the normal adjustments to a new life situation.

Within a very short time I began to miss the staff with whom I had worked for nearly a quarter century. They were extended family. They celebrated my retirement with ingenuity, humor, and great love. Now they were moving on to welcome a new leader and a new chapter in the life of the church. I missed the interaction, the laughter, the visioning, the family ties, and the conversations on a day to day basis. I missed their laughter in the halls and their voices outside my office door. I recognized these feelings as a kind of grief. I tried to rationalize my feelings and sleepless nights—and even a few unexpected tears—to a “textbook” understanding of grief.

I characteristically “analyzed” the enormity of what had happened: I had suddenly, precipitously moved from being in charge of everything (a 3500 member church and a staff of 30) to being in charge of nothing. A growing sense of emptiness and restlessness invaded my usually positive spirit. I did not regret my decision to retire. I did not yearn to return to my former position. But I was lonely and anxious in a strange new world.
Within less than one month, a second major life change took place. Our youngest son and his family found a forty acre farm for sale in the northeastern corner of the Pittsburgh area. They asked if we would we help them buy the farm, move there with them, help with child care, and set up a Community Supported Agriculture business with them. Our son would complete the C.S.A. effort as part of his Ph.D. project and thesis at West Virginia University.

My wife was elated; living only a few feet from our grandchildren was a dream come true. Her answer was an instant “yes.” I was catapulted into a whole new arena of emotions. Could we afford it? Would this shift radically change some (or all) of our retirement travel plans? Would the costs consume all of my pension and retirement savings? Would such a farm succeed? How could I learn to farm at my age? (I had lived all of my sixty-eight years in the suburbs.) Was I ready to leave a secure town-home community with virtually zero maintenance (where we had lived for the past ten years) to a high maintenance farm? Was this a true adventure, or was it utter foolishness? Throwing caution to the wind, we made an offer on the farm. The offer was accepted. My family was ecstatic. My own sleeplessness became even more pronounced.

Then came a third change. I was approached by my bishop to consider a part-time job in retirement. Would I consider taking on the task of coordinating leadership development for new lead pastors of larger membership churches and new young clergy under the age of 35? I would work directly for the bishop and meet with his executive team monthly. The position provided no staff, no office (I would work from home), and a modest stipend. The bishop and I would “invent” the job description together.

Though the bishop asked if I could start right away, I was wise enough to beg a postponement of this decision. I tentatively agreed to begin in about six months. I had no idea what I would do or how to structure this new position. Everyone who learned about the proposed position affirmed me as the right person at the right time. I almost felt guilty as the positive responses came my way. Would I let them down? Would I be able to function effectively and faithfully?

The following fall and winter were a long and arduous journey. We moved to the farm in November. I sensed it was a good thing to do in my head, but my heart would not yet rejoice.

Somewhere in the background of my mental health training, I remember learning that a healthy person can handle one major life change reasonably well. (Relocation, marriage, divorce, job change, the death of a loved one, etc.) Two such changes could cause some major stress. Three changes might push even the strongest person over the edge. I had always considered myself a strong person with a durable faith. But I now wondered if I was “going over the edge.”

I lost about twenty pounds—mostly because I was not hungry. I experienced what were probably moderate anxiety attacks combined with intermittent spells of real grief. I could only compare what was happening inside of me to the months following the death of my father nearly thirty years earlier.

I knew the counsel of experts: even a modest grief resolution takes at least six to eight months. More than two years later, I am slowly but clearly emerging into the other side of the process. I still have residual doubts about loss of ties with my church staff, about our new life on a farm, and about the new leadership development position. However, I also believe I have received a marvelous opportunity and a worthy journey for the next few years. I am slowly learning to be grateful for something new and challenging in my life. I am entering a new future with growing hope.

A colleague reflected with me: “Retirement is really a form of repositioning.” I like that expression. I am repositioning for a new stage of my life and ministry.

Elaine and I return to my former church for worship on occasion. I now know that I no longer want to be in charge. I miss the staff family, the discipline of sermon planning and preaching, the celebrations, and even the struggles. But I know a rising contentment and budding enthusiasm for my life and direction in these days—after some restless, strange, and uncomfortable months. I sense an emerging appreciation for my place in this retirement calling. I believe that a good and gracious God is part of the process with me. And I patiently await some healthy, worthy visions to unfold.

Brian K. Bauknight is a retired elder in the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference. This article was first published in Circuit Rider (May/June/July 2010). Printable PDF available here.