August 27, 2012

Help for Hurting Clergy Spouses

"Be Still" is a caring ministry for clergy spouses in the Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church. We've put together a brochure, and if you want a copy let me know ( There are ten districts in our conference, but only three districts have spouses who are available to listen and be present to those who are hurting. We are working on more coverage.

I was talking recently with one of the spouses providing support. Both of us described separate experiences with spouses whose names were given to us by a district superintendent. We contacted the spouse several times, with no response. We decided to contact the referring superintendents for further direction.

Reflecting on the lack of response, I remembered a few conversations with clergy spouses, who were afraid that sharing personal struggles would somehow get back to the congregation (even though confidentiality is assured) and/or affect their spouse's ministry.

My question is, How to inspire courage for hurting spouses to "speak up," and utilize a caring ministry designed just for them? I know that asking for help does take a lot of courage, but the benefits for carrying one another and ultimately bringing the spouse to the one says, "Come to me, all who are tired and need rest" can be healing.

God there are many spouses hurting in my conference and I assume in other conferences too. Give them strength and courage to seek listening ears who are waiting to help. Amen.

Jacquie Reed,
Fishers, Indiana

August 22, 2012

God Is the only Answer

I have a friend whose daughter and son-in-law are finishing a three-year commitment to a international ministry. This young couple had a baby in February--my friend's first grandchild. My friend said to me, "Why would God punish me by not allowing me to see my granddaughter?"

My reply, "God is not punishing you. Your children are only following God's call for their lives."

When we want things to be different or life doesn't go the way we want, why are we quick to look to think "God is punishing me," instead of asking God to walk beside us seeking strength and insight or rest in the companionship of God's presence.

Here is another example. This question was asked at my kitchen table. My sweet friend, lost twins at 23 weeks almost two years ago. Through the time we've known each other (we met a month after her loss), she frequently asks me, "Why did God take my children?" Beth's loss is something for which I have no answer; but I tell her, "I do not believe God took your children. Sometimes bad things happen over which we have no control, but God is with you and can be a continuous source of companionship, strength and comfort." But I am not sure she believes that God is merciful.

Why do bad things happen to those who love God? Things happen, we know for sure that are sad and tragic and for which there is no reason. This question is most difficult because there is no answer other than to seek God and walk beside the grieving person with love and companionship. Lasting healing is found in our relationships with each other and with God.

All questions about God are too big. We may think, pray, puzzle, and search the Bible for answers. But it's in the search and the companions we meet along the way who are also searching that we find what we can in this life.

Fishers, Indiana

August 21, 2012

How Do You Answer Big Questions?

The big questions keep coming my way. Even though my husband retired from ministry a year ago, my identity as one who can field and perhaps offer insight to difficult questions continues. A few years ago I even completed a two-year course of study at the Benedictine monastery in Indianapolis to become a spiritual director. Although I learned a lot about the desert fathers and mothers and other influential persons across denominations, when I get asked "big questions," I still struggle to find some sort of comforting answer. I find that no amount of training can ever prepare me for these persistent questions. I am grateful when God steps in, and provides answers; although, the words come from my mouth, they are not truly mine.

Although I do spiritual direction with persons individually, people often come up and ask me those big questions in Target, the library, the grocery store parking lot, at my kitchen table. Perhaps you attract them too.

Here is a question that came my way this week. Today I was at the library, tutoring a student. Her mother mentioned that she received a notice from her church to work in childcare. The mother said, "I felt terrible that I couldn't volunteer. I got the notice on Wednesday for the following Sunday. We already had plans for a family gathering Sunday morning. Am I a bad Christian because I said no?"

My answer to Judy: "No, you are not a bad Christian. Sometimes things don't work out. There will be other times when you can volunteer."

The question I asked myself was, "Why does this woman put a negative judgement on her life? Why did she frame it as being a good or bad Christian? Who told her she couldn't reasonably say no?

How would you have answered? What do you say when people ask you big questions out of the blue? Who do you turn to when you have big questions?

Fishers, Indiana

August 17, 2012

Need Help or Information about Autism?

If you want information for you and/or your church about children with Autism, you will want to check out Ellen Notbohm. She is the author of the best-selling book, Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew. Here is her web address:

You might also want to subscribe to her free newsletter that is available when you go to her site.


Church Art Reflects Church Values

The Indianapolis Museum of Art is one of my favorite places to visit. I try to go four or five times each year. I appreciate art. I like to create art, which is a way for me to pray.

Last summer when Mike, my husband, and I were looking for a new church following his retirement, we visited six churches, all United Methodist. We were very much aware of how we were welcomed--or not welcomed--what kind of follow-up was in place for first-time visitors such as receiving a letter from the pastor noting our attendance sometime the next week, and what kind of contact was made to determine our interest in Sunday school or other activities.

Something I also noted was the art--or lack of art--that I saw in the hallways. Four out of the six churches had large oil paintings of all of the persons who had pastored the church. One had a picture of our bishop. These portraits lined the halls where everyone walked--in other words, seeing these portraits was the first thing I noticed after entering the building. I did not see any artwork illustrating the life of Christ or other event in the Bible.

One church had what I call "life in the kingdom of God" photographs lining the walls of the large narthex. There were close to twenty photographs of adult and youth mission teams at work, the Christmas program, a Thanksgiving collection of filled grocery bags at the altar, a Sunday school class, Bible school events, and other experiences from various ministries and events that were important to that congregation. The last church we visited had stained glass windows, altar sculptures, embroidered kneeling pads--art was everywhere even on the ceiling. I appreciated the pamphlets available that described the meaning of all of the art in the building.

I was discussing my observations with a friend who is Catholic. I commented that all of the Catholic churches I visited are filled with often very graphic art, depicting the life of Christ. There is always a statue of Mary and as well as other paintings. She commented that Catholics view art as integral to the worship experience. However, she described a fairly new Catholic church close to me, that has only a crucifix hanging in the sanctuary and no other art. She said that this church intentionally did not want any art because the thinking was that "the people are the art of the church."

Reflecting on several weeks of art adventures in churches made me wonder what a church is saying by its choice of art? What type of art do you have in your church? What type of statement, if any, might that art have for those who visit? Does God speak through art? If so, what might God be saying to you?

Fishers, Indiana

August 15, 2012

Growing in Love and Marriage

My husband, Mike, retired a year ago after 37 years in ministry. I did not anticipate any great difficulty with this change in our lives, as we already had lots of events in which we participated in place years before we even thought about retirement.

So, I was very surprised to discover we had two very different styles of preparing/leaving for church. Now, we had not ridden to church together for 35 years. That fact should have been my first clue to potential difficulty. Mike insisted we leave 45 minutes before the service began (a drive that only takes 25 minutes max). My habit had been to skim in right when the service started or even during the opening hymn. "Why arrive any earlier?" I thought, "I can visit with people after church."

Convincing Mike that he no longer needs to arrive early to open the church, check the baptismal fount for water, make sure the communion elements and bulletins in place, etc. etc., is a major task. He also has had to find space on the passenger side of the car for me to "move in." My style on Sunday morning for 35 years had been to finish getting ready for church at each stoplight--putting on makeup and inserting my contacts.

Needless to say, there was an adjustment necessary on Sunday morning that I never would have predicted. Now that a year has passed, we have reached a compromise. I've shaved fifteen minutes from our departure time, and Mike has adjusted well to having me in the car. In fact, he recently bought a box of kleenex so that I didn't need to transport the box from my car to his each week.

As humorous as these changes have been, Mike broke my heart several times. A few weeks after he retired, I asked, "How are you doing?" He replied, "I have my soul back." I was speechless. I wasn't expecting that reply. Then not too long ago, he said, "I am almost getting to the place where I can think of a weekend without sermon preparation or typical weekend responsibilities at the church."

I knew that Mike had served well and deeply with persons in the various congregations he pastored, but I thought that retiring would enable him to relax immediately and adapt to a new weekend pace. The rhythm of ministry is rewarding, but also difficult and grueling. People bring who they are to church life--worship, commitee meetings, fund raising, and all other aspects of participation, which means they bring all sorts of challenges to ministry.

I am so thankful that Mike sits beside me in church. That is a really big deal for us. We cherish our time driving to and from church, wondering about the sermon on the way down, and then discussing the worship experience on the way home. I am so thankful that finally after a year Mike can relax, and experience God's presence so deeply each Sunday. We have grown during the year--with humor and God's blessing realizing that compromise can occur in any part of our married life.

Jacquie Reed, Fishers, Indiana

August 13, 2012

Lessons from the Olympics--Happiness Is Perspective

I love the Olympics and am sorry that we'll have to wait 18 months for the Winter games. They offer some good life lessons.

Perhaps you heard the research, but it seems that bronze medals winners are generally happier than the silver medalists. The silver medalists compare themselves to the gold medal winners. They think, "If only I had done a little more." So they go to the podium disappointed. The bronze medalists, on the other hand, compare themselves to all the people who didn't win. They see themselves as much better off and just lucky to be there at all. They go to the podium with gratitude. The level of happiness is a matter of who they compare themselves to.

Are you happy? Who do you compare yourself too? We are blessed with so much material and spiritual wealth. But many don't feel satisfied with their blessings, because they think other people have more. They feel shorted even cheated when compared to "everyone" else.

While I certainly like my creature comforts, there have been times when our family struggled. The parsonage was substandard. Money, or the lack of it, was a constant worry. If seemed that we were always just one step away from financial ruin. But we were still happy. Happy to be together and learning how to depend on God with more trust. Times are better for us now, but the lessons we learned from the hard times have not gone unheeded. And now I can even thank God for them.

How is it with you? Are you struggling? Are you continually disappointed with your lot in life? Perhaps it is time to express gratitude for what you do have and thank God for your blessings, which God willingly wants for us.

Dear God, With so many unhappy people in our congregations, help us keep our eyes focused on you and the blessings you give us. Help us express gratitude so that we can experience the joy of living. In Christ's name, Amen.

Grace, Kathy

August 10, 2012

Train Up Children as They Should Go

Like most, many United Methodists have a love/hate relationship with discipline. But for us, UM's, we tend to take a broader view. For us, discipline is not simply "training," "living according to rules," "being kept in line," or even the pain of reproof or punishment. Rather, discipline is our way of doing Church. Even our book of Church doctrine and polity is called The Book of Disciple or simply The Discipline.

Russ Richey, Ken Rowe, and Jean Miller Schmidt tell us in their book, The Methodist Experience in American: A History, the first Discipline, even by its title, pointed to John Wesley's power and authority to convene, pose questions, answer those questions, keep record, and structure the Methodist people as he would. But recourse to Wesley's rule was quickly rethought and overturned as new leaders shaped and adapted the Church to its new context in America and elsewhere.

Still, we Methodists have ambivalence toward discipline, even our Church's official, codified version of it. But as all parents know, discipline is necessary. And while sometimes unpleasant, discipline consistently done with kindness, love, and empathy will help our children grow into responsible, caring adults.

The same is also true with maturing Christians (meaning all of us) as we walk on that road to perfection that Wesley talked about. We need to pay consistent, close, measured, and thoughtful attention to faith as we practice it daily. For us, though, practice does not mean perfect, but being increasingly transparent to God's love.

So when someone strays from our common pilgrim road, we need to pursue them as a good shepherd. Our first impulse should not be to yank them back in line but to gently coax, so it can be their true choice. But also as parents, we all know that there are times when yanking has to happen, but more about that another time.

As for our own practicing, how is your daily Bible study? How faithful are your acts of mercy? Do you tithe? Fast? How is it with your soul? How is it with the soul of your congregation? What fruit has your work of discipline produced? More justice? More equality? Less bigotry?

Just remember the goal is not discipline itself. That only leads to legalism. The goal is what discipline yields--as our Communion ritual reminds us--a whole person who is freed for joyful obedience.

Grace, Kathy

August 9, 2012

Living Out the Joy of Salvation

There are troubled churches because there are troubled people. But there are also deeply committed and joyful Christians in every church (or so I choose to believe).

In our church we have several weekly prayer and study groups. One group I attend is an Emmaus Reunion Group. If you are unfamiliar with the Walk to Emmaus program from the Upper Room, you might want to check them out at

We meet weekly for accountable discipleship, which includes sharing moments closest to Christ, calls to discipleship, times when we were not mindful of God's call, and prayer. As we pray and share each week, we grow closer to God but also closer to each other. This group and its members give me great joy, and it also strengthens our congregation.

While congregational life is difficult. It is also reassuring to know that congregational life can bring deep satisfaction. Just like children bring many trials; we would not trade them for anything and would go to the ends of the earth to make sure they are loved and provided for.

So the front doors of our churches really can help us enter into the joy of Christ's salvation.

Grace, Kathy

August 6, 2012

Living in the Midst of Grief in Your Congregation

One of the great privileges of being an integral part of congregational life is the fact that clergy and clergy families are close to many people we wouldn't know well otherwise. We often have unique access to families during formative times. For example, it's not unusual to find clergy and spouse at wedding rehearsal dinners, at family celebrations of birth and baptism, or even to be invited to dinner just because the family wants to host the pastor and his/her family. Over the years, our family has been blessed by many of these relationships that sometimes last well beyond our going to another church.

And it is a privilege to be there when people really need a helping hand--to be called upon to give, not out of duty but out of friendship. In my Sunday School class there is a couple who is going through a very rough time. Their young daughter is seriously ill. Yesterday, the mother ran into our class late, because her daughter wanted to come to church. The daughter has been disfigured because of recent surgery. While she knows she will be made fun of when she goes back to school, she wanted to come to church to be with her youth group friends, whom she knew would embrace her with love and support. The mother came into our class to let us know "the latest" and for prayer. As we stood around her, several said that we expect to be called upon to transport the other kids, mow the lawn, cook some meals. It was more than, "Please call us if you need anything." It was more like, "I'll be over next week with food, and I'll be there to do some lawn care. Don't worry."

Fortunately, I was late for choir, which meant that I had to leave quickly, because I was beginning to tear-up--as was everyone else.

As clergy families, we sometimes glimpse of the Kingdom of God, when people truly behave like the Body of Christ. But grief and sorrow are things we live with daily. There are just so many hurting people. With so much tragedy, we must be sure to laugh and celebrate whenever possible. God loves a cheerful giver.

Grace, Kathy

August 2, 2012

Bullying Is Wrong--No Matter Who Does It

I'm told that Mother Teresa said that we can only do small acts with much love. But it seems that love is in short supply.

Liberals are bashing Chick-Fil-A for not agreeing with their view of marriage. There are even reports the gay activists will protest by having holding a Same Sex Kiss Day inside Chick-Fil-A. See:

That sounds like bullying to me.

Then there are the Conservatives who bash Liberals. Recently, I read "You'll know your pastor is liberal if..." It was supposed to be funny. Funny if you think making fun of others is ok.

Sounds like bullying to me.

Jesus did small and large acts of love for us. The least we can do, if we can't manage any degree of love, is to act civil toward each other. Perhaps Liberals and Conservatives need to listen while they pray the Lord's Prayer, "Forgive us as we forgive..."

Grace, Kathy