January 29, 2013

Grieving Far Away: Finding Comfort in the Body of Christ

My parents recently died four days apart. My mother died the afternoon of my father's funeral. Mike, my husband, and I were not far from Columbus, Ohio, were they lived, when I received the call about my mother. We continued home, had one day to cancel plans, notify jobs, and then return for the second funeral.

The visitation and funeral were during the week and out of state, too far for any friends to travel. I know how important being with those who have experienced loss is from years of sitting and spending time with persons during those early days of grief.

Mike and I sat through two services, one visitation, and two funeral dinners, knowing no one.The church and funeral homes were filled with people, who knew my folks and my brother, but not me. I left Columbus and moved away after graduating from Ohio State.

I asked God to help me see another perspective during the first funeral, my father's. I felt God with me in close companionship, but I longed to see a familiar face and receive a hug.The services were held at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral, which is the family denomination.The ladies of the church prepared a nice luncheon and then the heavens opened.

One by one, persons who were at the luncheon (which was open to anyone) came and said , "I am praying for you." "You are in my prayers." "What a difficult time to loose two parents so close together." I didn't know anyone, but I received God's presence from the sincerity and deep compassion. These people comforted me even thought I was a stranger.

I came away with a new perspective. In the body of Christ there is indeed communion and companionship even away from home when it is needed most.

Jacquie Reed
Fishers, Indiana

January 28, 2013

Feeling Like A Fake

I have a confession. For the first 4 years that I was a clergy spouse, I had serious doubts about my faith. Everything I had ever believed about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit were up in the air. Some days I couldn't even say I believed that God existed.

Having so much of my once solid faith fall away left me feeling lonely, scared, confused, and aimless. Those emotions were intensified by my unwillingness to be open about the state of my faith. (My husband was the only one who knew.) I wasn't sure how my husband’s congregations, my friends, or family would respond to me and my husband if they knew. I assumed our churches would only accept me if I was the pillar of faith that every clergy spouse is “supposed to be.” I was afraid of being either rejected or pushed to regain my faith. I was scared I would never find faith again. I felt embarrassed and confused, and no matter what I tried nothing seemed to bring me up out of this faithless chasm. I was stuck, wanting desperately to have faith, to engage fully with the people in our church, to have my world make sense again. But those things weren't going to happen overnight. So, I did what seemed like the best solution at the time: I faked it.

To all outward appearances I was a pillar of faith and devotion to God and the Church. I taught Sunday school and chaired committees. I showed up at all the services and special events. I volunteered at the local hospital. I did a great job at covering up and pushing aside my fears and doubts. Except there was one thing I couldn't push aside – I felt like a fake. I felt like I was constantly being dishonest with our churches and with God (when God and I were on speaking terms). I was doing all this church work out of habit, knowing the right actions to take and the right words to say. But I always felt like a phony and that I did not have any right to be in a position of leadership when my spiritual life was in such shambles.

I wish I would have done things differently. I wish I would have found some people early on (not just my husband) in whom I could confide. I needed a pastor or spiritual director who would listen and guide me. I needed more than just one friend who knew the truth so that I could practice being myself authentically, not the fake person I was putting out there. For a long I time I didn't have the courage to trust that anyone would treat my feelings and my soul with the tenderness required for healing.

The tide began to turn when I finally got fed up with being fake and had run out of energy to hold back my feelings. I was at an annual gathering of my denomination’s clergy spouses and found myself confessing to an entire room full of people that I had a shell of a faith and had been putting up a front for the past 4 years. I thought it was going to be awful to actually say those words out loud. I thought the room would go dead silent. Instead, what happened is that I felt liberated that the secret was out. I had a surprising number of my fellow spouses offer prayer, tell me their own stories of lost faith, or tell me to call them anytime I needed to talk. From that point on things started to get better. I don’t mean that all of a sudden my faith reassembled itself, because 6 years later, I’m still rebuilding. But I didn't have to put all the energy into hiding anymore. I didn't have to try to fix everything by myself. I was able to lay my doubt on the altar and I tell God I was done trying to solve this myself – if it truly mattered to God then it was God’s problem now. God was able to begin using other people to speak to my heart when I couldn't hear directly from God. And best of all, I am no longer ashamed of hiding or being a fake.

I share my story willingly in the hope that others will stop hiding too.


January 25, 2013

Where to go when a pastor needs a pastor?

A few weeks ago we had two situations in our family for which we desired pastoral support. Since Mike, my husband, is retired, we have no district superintendent. We are attending a church with three very capable, competent pastors; but both of us wanted to talk with someone we knew, someone who knew our family, someone who was more familiar.

We prayed for direction and were led to one of Mike's former associates, who is now serving a church just a few miles away. He and Mike had a wonderful working relationship. We made an appointment. Our friend listened with compassion and care, prayed with us, and gave us encouragement to move forward.  

Yesterday I was talking with the chaplain at the hospital where I am a chaplain volunteer. We were discussing a few challenges in ministry -- finding a pastor when a pastor/spouse need pastoral support was mentioned. Praying for direction --who to seek-- was of primary importance. 

Mike and I both have lots of  friends in ministry; but when we prayed for guidance, we were led to someone a little unexpected, someone we rarely see. We wanted someone who was trustworthy and could keep a confidence. And we felt peace with our decision and experience.

When pastors need pastoral support, sometimes finding another pastor can be difficult. If you or your family need pastoral support, where do you go?

Jacquie Reed 
Fishers, Indiana

January 23, 2013

Inaugural Prayer Service

Did you watch the Inaugural Prayer Service broadcast yesterday? If so, I'm sure you'd agree that there were many moving moments. And no one could miss the diversity of all types, not just religious. For me, one of the most poignant moments was when a Jew and Muslim appeared on the podium together and each prayed for peace.

Adam Hamilton, pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, preached the sermon. It was brief and to the point--three points actually. Plain words but profound nonetheless. Adam's words could not be misunderstood. We need a clear vision that we all can agree on together before we can be the nation we are called to be, the nation we want to be. He also told of how people are coming together for mission in his congregation to eliminate child poverty in his part of the country. No matter what their political affiliation or views, his church agreed that they needed to do what they could to help kids. So Church of the Resurrection is partnering with the school system to paint classrooms, tutor kids, send meals home on the weekends in backpacks, and even provide kids with their own bed at home. While Adam Hamilton meant only to illustrate his point, his church can be an example for all of our churches, not just our government.

Yesterday was a good day to be an American. The service was full of pageantry and wonderful music. And it was clear that the congregation was touched. But emotions will fade. What we need is for us all to recommit ourselves to being good citizens and work toward the common good together no matter how you voted. I plan to write my Congress people and tell them just that. I hope you do as well.

Pray for our nation.

Grace, Kathy

January 18, 2013

Caring for Veterans and Their Families

Millions of our men and women are veterans. Some of our pastors and their family members serve the military as well.Clergy families are not exempt.Some have been deployed (multiple times) to Iraq and Afghanistan recently, some are retired military, and some continue to serve in the Reserves. Over 6,600  warriors have died and will not return at all. More that 48,000 have sustained war injuries and 45,000 are returning with Purple Hearts. But all returning service members and their families will experience the challenge of re-entry as they leave the war zone and their buddies to return to a new normal.

As you may have heard in the media, there is a serious issue regarding veterans and suicide. War is not a spectator sport. It harms everyone involved, even those who are there to help. Yet, we are fortunate that our soldiers can come home to peace.

Churches are in a unique position to help. While Vet Centers are helpful (1-877-War-Vets; www.vetcenter.va.gov), they do not have the reach of churches. There are churches everywhere. If you want to help, contact our United Methodist Endorsing Agency at www.gbhem.org. They have some excellent resources and suggestions. Pastors and other caregivers can also need help. Often the helpers are the last to recognize their own struggles and needs.

What do our returning warriors need? Welcome, hospitality, a pat on the back, a listening ear, prayer; but also there's a good chance they will also need a job. There is also a good chance that they will return with some kind of injury (physical, emotional, relational, spiritual, and/or moral).

Here are a couple things any church can do: offer healing services, preach and teach about forgiveness, pray for them as part of the pastoral prayer. But here are also some things you don't want to say:
"How was the war?" "Did you kill anyone?" "Did you see anyone die?" "Were you scared?" "Did you lose buddies over there?" These questions are certainly not for casual conversation at the fellowship dinner.

There are literally tons of resources. If you need help finding them, let me know.

Grace, Kathy

Adam Hamilton Preaches at National Prayer Service

It was announced today (Friday) that Adam Hamilton will deliver the sermon at the National Prayer Service in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, January 22. This weekend President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will formally recommit to serving the people of the United States at the 57th Presidential Inauguration. The national prayer service is held at the Washington National Cathedral at the conclusion of weekend’s activities and will celebrate America’s diversity of faith traditions.

This highly anticipated service dates back to the time of George Washington and includes prayers, readings, blessings and hymns delivered by religious leaders from across the United States.  

The service will be held on Tuesday, January 22nd at 10:30am EST (9:30am CST) and will be webcast live at www.nationalcathedral.org. A press announcement and additional information can be found at http://www.2013pic.org/press/release/rev.-adam-hamilton-selected-to-deliver-sermon-at-national-prayer-service.

Adam is pastor of Church of the Resurrection in Kansas and is well known throughout United Methodism. He is grounded in our Wesleyan heritage that emphasizes the primacy of scripture, the intersection of personal piety and social holiness, along with open-arm engagement with other faiths. 

Let us all pray for our nation.

Grace, Kathy

January 15, 2013

Dealing with Deaths and Other Bad News

For anyone involved in a church, it's always difficult to hear bad news--this friend is newly diagnosed with cancer, this young parent was killed in a car accident, this youth died of a brain tumor, this couple is getting divorced, this person just was arrested on a trumped-up charge. But it is especially hard as a clergy family to hear all the bad news and often know the people personally. So it's not just "that person I see occasionally" but "that person who sings in choir with me" or "that kid who plays with my child in the preschool everyday."

So what do you do with all the bad news, personally? Recently a young father in our congregation was diagnosed with stage-4 cancer. One day he was planning to run in a marathon, and the next, he was in the hospital receiving 3 pints of blood.The story is tragic and seems all too often repeated these days. But for this man and his family, they are thankful that the cancer was discovered in time; and they are also thankful that they have their faith and church family to help. What they may not know is that their church family is grieving too and just getting over another tragic death in the congregation. But I also know that our congregation will not fail them and there are plenty of people to help.

But for those of us who see this sadness so often, it does take its toil. I am not talking about faith being tested, although there may be some of that. And while I am sad, I also have to keep things in perspective. And I have to find ways to balance the bad news with good news.

If I feel this way, I often wonder how our clergy spouses feel. Because they are usually directly involved. My involvement is direct sometimes but indirect other times. And I don't know about you, but my spouse does not tell me all that he knows about what people are going through. So pray for God to sustain your spouse and give him/her the grace to endure as they listen and minister to the sick, dying, bereaved, and suffering. Pray that there be sufficient joy and peace for effective ministry to prevail.

What do you, your family, and your spouse do to lighten the load of service and find the joy that God really intends for us all?

Grace, Kathy

January 11, 2013

Appointment Time Decisions

Do we stay or do we go? Do we even get a choice?

Across the connection Staff Parish Relations Committees and Pastor Parish Relations Committees are meeting in this annual ritual to evaluate and vote about what the church wants to do with the pastor--keep or send packing.

This certainly can be a stressful time for clergy families. I know that one of my kids once said that she felt that even she was being sized up during these times.

At our current church, things are going well; so I've chosen not to worry about it. But in times past, when I had a definite opinion about either staying or leaving, I wasn't as nonchalant.

I have seen SPRCs be sensitive to the clergy family needs and others who really don't care much. I've seen SPRCs be helpful to the congregation and others who have sabotaged the congregation's wishes. I wouldn't say it is a crap shoot, but it sometimes feels that way. Through the process, I've seen helpful DSs and jealous, power hungry ones.

I had another spouse tell me that if pastors have a difficult time with the SPRC, it's their own fault, because they select committee members. I love this person, but she is naive at this point.The Church is a very human institution despite also being a vehicle for God's grace. And the appointment process is very imperfect. If you are looking for me to say that "Even if the process is imperfect, it's the best we can do under the circumstances," I can't. The process is imperfect but surely we can do better--and a good dose of prayer with some humility wouldn't hurt either.

So, please know that I am praying for you. And I invite you to pray as well that we embody God's love during, what can be, difficult times.

Grace, Kathy

January 9, 2013

Are You Married to the Church?

Someone recently accused me of being "married to the church." The person didn't exactly mean it as an insult, but he was saying that he thought I was overly committed to our denomination. Not having heard that before, I didn't have a quick reply. But I did manage to say that no one should ever say that to a clergy spouse. And it did make me think about what exactly is a spouse's relationship to the church.

I have heard of people being married to their job and to, maybe, a sports team, and I know that Roman Catholic nuns "marry" the church in some sense. But it never occurred to me that other people might think that I was married to the UMC--married to a pastor, yes, but not the church. If anything my relationship to the church is, I suspect, much like other spouses. It is a love-hate relationship with church people..

The church can be gracious and a ready source of help in time of need; but it can also be petty, vindictive, and power-hungry. Too many times, I've heard that clergy families are the "collateral damage" when there is a bad move or when the spouse is unfairly treated. From my view, part of my job as a spouse is to protect my children and spouse from unwelcome and unneeded intrusions into our family life. Our home is open but it is also a haven away from the 24/7 demands of the congregation. In those cases, I can't say that I love the church. I respect people's needs but not their trying to make our family co-dependent or be unduly influenced by warped people who are only too willing to tell me how to raise my kids or practice my faith.

But I also love the church. That is I love what the church aspires to be and sometimes is. And I'm in it for the long haul. We've made great friends over the years but also some spectacular enemies.

I guess, however, I'm mostly wary of the church and its all too human structures of power and authority. It's hard to be otherwise when you've been lied to and cheated by other clergy and even DSs. But I'm not going to walk away and divorce myself from the church because, despite its warts, it is still the Body of Christ. But I'm also not going to let it roll over me or my family. The ends, after all, do not justify the means.

So, what about you? What would you say if someone told you that you acted married to the church? What is your relationship to the church, both local and beyond? Are you happy with your choice to be a clergy spouse?

Grace, Kathy

January 7, 2013

Grace in the Midst of Conflict

Like many young families in ministry, we have had times when my husband was appointed to a church as an associate pastor. For many families, these are some of the best years in ministry – less pressure because there is a senior minister who has the weightier responsibilities, the chance to be mentored by a seasoned clergy/clergy spouse, the ability to focus on a particular kind of ministry rather than administration. For other families, the years as an associate pastor are a tremendous struggle – senior ministers that micro-manage or are unwilling to share the pulpit, congregations that ask when the pastor is going to visit as the associate is walking out of a parishioner’s door after a visit, being stuck with the responsibilities that nobody else is willing to do. 
Being the spouse of the associate pastor when things aren’t going so well can be tough.  I sometimes found it hard to sit in church and be open to the senior pastor’s message when I knew what was going on behind the scenes. All I could think about was the most recent conflict in which it seemed like my husband had once again gotten the short end of the stick. It was also sometimes awkward. The few occasions when I was alone with the senior pastor were sometimes uncomfortable because we both knew that there was animosity in the air. 
            However, in the midst of what was one of the most stressful times in ministry was one very bright spot. The spouse of the senior pastor was incredibly gracious and kind to both me and my husband throughout that period. I am sure she was as aware as I was of the conflict going on between our husbands. Yet she always greeted us warmly and never let it stand in the way of our friendship.  As the “junior” and still very inexperienced clergy-spouse, I felt powerless to do anything to make the tension better, but she extended tremendous grace to me and my family. She set the tone for how we all conducted ourselves even in the midst of conflict. Her efforts built the one and only bridge that allows our two families to have any sort of positive relationship to this day. 
If you are reading this and you are the “junior” spouse, I hope you will focus on the positive relationships that will help get you through this time. If you are the “senior” spouse, know that you have the ability to build and even repair relationships in ways that your pastor-spouse cannot. Your reaching out can have a positive affect that will last throughout the lifetime of someone else’s ministry.

January 4, 2013

Superhero Up, Up, and Away

Every Sunday morning my husband begins the service by having the congregation repeat our mission, which is: "Making disciples of Jesus Christ to transform the world." It's taken a while, but everybody knows what we are about as a church--even the children.

It seems that one of little boys in the congregation got a superhero doll for his birthday a couple of weeks ago. And his mother overheard him say to the action figure as he held it up to the sky: "And what is your mission? Making disciples of Jesus Christ to transform the world. Now, up, up, and away!"

My husband shared the story with the congregation and everybody smiled and laughed. But the point was made. "Train up a child in the way they should go and they will return to it."

Train up a congregation in the way we should go and we will begin to orientate our daily lives around our mission and ministry.

As we begin a New Year, I've resolved to live out that mission with more intentionality.

What is your mission for the new year?

Grace, Kathy

Helping Families with Autism in Your Church

Autism is becoming a more frequent and nuanced diagnosis. We have had several autistic kids and adults in our churches over the years, but I am certainly no expert. But if you do need expert help either as a parent or concerned friend, check out Ellen Notbohm's website. www.ellennotbohm.com  She's written several helpful books and sends out a monthly newsletter.

Currently our church has autistic kids in several grade levels. Like all children, no two are alike and some have more needs than others. But because some of our teachers now have the type of experience these kids need, more special needs families are coming to our church. The kids are great and have a chance to be in an accepting, loving environment with kids of their own age. It's a lesson in compassion for everybody. This is a good thing.

Grace, Kathy

January 3, 2013

From Eric and Liz Soard: Missionaries in Africa

Smelling the Roses by Sticking My Nose in the Dirt

For probably the first time since we have been here we really don’t have that much to share about what has happened in the last month. We have spent much of our time on the road, Dar es Salaam to Mwanza to Tarime to Nairobi to Tarime to Musoma to Mwanza to…I think you get the idea. The time that hasn’t been spent on the road has been spent on Christmas. However we, like many of you, are busy preparing for 2013. We are smelling, not the roses that are already blooming, but the ones that have been planted in rich dirt and are waiting to grow.

I wanted to share some of what we are looking forward to in 2013:

1.Starting a publishing group that will help create resources for the pastors and Christians in the Tanzanian Conference to grow in their faith.
2. New churches in communities that really have a need for a community based church.
3. Marriage classes in communities that still follow traditional marriage practices leading to unhappy and sometimes dangerous home situations.
4. A new development committee for the district that will be equipped to visit individual churches and help them see the needs and strengths of their churches and communities.
5. A young leaders mentoring group to bring together young leaders in the church who will have an impact now and for a long time to come.
6. The Emmanuel Center for Women and Children in Gamasara. It will see a slow, but hopefully steady start to address the issues of women’s and children’s rights and education in Gamasara.
7. Volunteer teams that will come and help with some of these projects.

Now that is a lot going on and we know how plans actually work out after we make them, however, the real roses we see starting to grow are the people we work with. We have agreed as a family and ministry that 2013 will be a time to invest in people. We want to grow our love for the people we are in relationships with now as well as the new people we will meet this year. We want to not shy away from the hard work of loving others that God has for us, but to be able to change our lives so that they help us have the time and energy to love the people God puts into our lives in the coming year.

Wherever you are we hope you can join us in that commitment this year. If you want to join us in other commitments this year please feel free to contact us and ask how you can help, support us, or be in prayer for the ministries that will fill our hearts and minds in 2013.