May 31, 2013

Forty Days: Help for Grief

There is a service  in the Greek Orthodox Church that occurs forty days after a person's death. Special food is prepared to eat after the service of remembrance.  My parents, who both died in mid-January, were recently honored.

I was telling a friend, who is familiar with the Greek Orthodox tradition about the  difficulty I was having dealing with their passing. She suggested that I begin my own forty-day period of reflection to deal with the emotions I was experiencing. She didn't tell me how to structure the time or what to do. I decided to commit to forty days of reflection, asking God to direct me daily.   got a notebook, numbering each day, including the date. I wrote a few words or sentences each night. Sometimes I wrote God questions, other times I recorded new insights or perspectives received. I wrote scripture; I wrote prayers. I drew simple pictures. I brought my heart completely to God.  

I am on day 37 of 40. I have reached a place of peace. I am so grateful.

I realized that '"forty days" occurs often in the Bible. Noah was in the ark 40 days. Jesus went to the wilderness forty days. Lent lasts 40 days. There are probably more.

I want to offer  forty days of reflection'for any difficulty or challenge you are facing.  Many pastors and families are anticipating change within the next few weeks with new church appointments. 'Forty days of preparation for the move or the first forty days in a new church might be a  helpful, intentional way of spending time with God, offering grounding in uncertainty, chaos, and adjustment.

Forty days could be effective  for discernment, dealing with any type of loss, celebrating an event, planting a garden or being present to anything life presents.  

I am thankful for the way a Greek Orthodox tradition has helped me along a difficult path. I told my friend today I felt like I had experienced two Lents this year, which also means I have experienced two Easters!!  Thanks be to God!

Jacquie Reed 
Fishers, Indiana

May 30, 2013

Let Me Introduce You to my Minister’s Wife (or Husband)

A couple of Sunday mornings ago, I was hanging out in the “coffee commons” talking to a parishioner/friend. Our children are similar in age, so we often find ourselves together at church functions. Not too far into our conversation a couple of other women came and sat down at our table and joined the conversation. I had never met these two women before (it’s a fairly big congregation and we’ve been at this church less than a year), but my friend knew them. We all chatted for at least 10 minutes before we got around to actually introducing ourselves. I decided not to tell these women that I was the pastor’s spouse, I just introduced myself as Julie. My friend, however, did mention that I was married to the pastor, which seemed to take the women by surprise. I explained that I sometimes don’t let on who I am because it occasionally makes people uncomfortable or they feel like they can’t be themselves around me. Whenever possible, I like to let people get to know me for me before their expectations or assumptions of the “preacher’s wife” get thrown into the mix. 
            Being able to get to know others without the designation “preacher’s wife” is a luxury. In the relatively small communities where we have and are serving churches, I often run into parishioners at the store or the ball fields, and almost always get introduced as the preacher’s wife (sometimes without even my first name). Sometimes it bugs me that I don’t get to be just Julie, like many of our parishioners get to be just Sarah or Dan. I would like to be sure that the conversations I’m having with people in the community are not being filtered through the assumption that there are things they are not supposed to say to me. One of my personal goals as a clergy spouse is to help people see that clergy families are very much like most other people. 
That said, I have learned that being introduced as the preacher’s spouse comes with the territory, and rather than resent it I try to see it as an opportunity for possibility.  It opens the possibility of relationships to which I might not otherwise have access.  It opens the possibility of being able to minister to someone who doesn’t otherwise have anyone to whom they feel they can turn.  It gives people the chance to get to know me and see just how normal (and imperfect) clergy families are. 

How is it for you when you are identified as the minister’s spouse?  Is it something you celebrate, loathe, or somewhere in between?  

May 7, 2013

Making a Good Move

Each year the Indiana Annual Conference holds a mandatory program for all pastors and spouses who are moving.  Our bishop, Mike Coyner, leads the two day session. Bishop Coyner meets with clergy and spouses for part of the first afternoon. Then, two other spouses and myself, take the spouses for a separate time of gathering.

We begin with a reflection, then introductions. The rest of our time together  is guided by the following questions:
1. Where are you currently living? Where are you moving?  
2. How do you feel about the move?
3.  What adjustments do you anticipate as you and your family settle into the new home and congregation?
4.  If you have children, how old are they, and how are they responding to the move?
5.  How has the current clergy family helped prepare you or your congregation for your coming?

We are intentional about making sure each person has an opportunity to talk.  We finish by reviewing these suggestions offered to make a move go smoothly.

1. Intentionally continue whatever you do to stay connected to God.  Even if you have to shorten the time usually spent reading the Bible or resting in silence or prayer, the daily grounding you receive will be a reminder of God's presence.
2. Keep a routine as much as possible, especially if children are involved. A routine can offer structure when there is chaos all around.
3. Recognize that moving involves grief for you, and the congregations you serve and will serve.  There are breaks in meaningful relationships.  Anger, sadness, disappointment, fear, anxiety, as well as excitement are often present.  Realize these responses are normal and allow time to work through those that occur.  Several months of grieving may occur.
4. Be patient with yourself. Adjustments take time. Learning how to navigate streets or how to get to church or making connections for yourself and your children, locating a doctor, dentist, a school, a job, the grocery store, the library, cannot be accomplished in one day. Celebrate small steps you make each day.
5. Share feelings about the move with your spouse/children so you can support each other.
6. Stay in touch with persons in the congregation or community with whom you feel close.  Email, facebook, and other ways of electronic communication enable persons to stay connected much better than in the past.
7. Invite friends to your new church, house/parsonage, and community.  Seeing familiar faces after a move can be uplifting.
8. Clean the parsonage thoroughly before leaving.
9. Recognize there are stages in life that are more difficult to move than others.
10. Take time to become acquainted/familiar with persons/ministries in the new church as you decide where to serve and when to begin.
11. Exercise regularly. A YMCA or fitness center can offer fun ways to manage stress associated with a move as well as a place to meet new people.  If finances are limited, a walk is refreshing...and free.
12. Establish a new routine to add familiarity and structure in new surroundings.
13.  Consider welcoming  the new minister's family by leaving a note to greet them in the parsonage.  Provide basic information/directions to important places such as the grocery store, pharmacy, and a couple of restaurants.  If the incoming family has children, offer them to see the parsonage or to attend Bible School (if Bible School is in June, moves in the Indiana conference are effective July 1.)   

The Make A Good Move program is on Friday, May 17.  I am looking forward to meeting the new group of persons who are moving.

Jacquie Reed (with Julie Pimlott), Fishers, Indiana, and Greensburg, Indiana