Posts tagged ‘pastors.’

November 7, 2013

Getting Married to God

On Monday, November 4th, I celebrated the 7th anniversary of my ordination.

Seven years ago this week, I stood at the front of a church– Calvary Baptist Church in Washington DC and said to the congregation gathered of family, friends and congregation members that I would serve God in my vocational pursuits. I said I would set aside personal interests for the sake of the community of Christ. I said I would seek to embody, teach and share the gospel with my life. I said I would do all of this for as long as I lived.

After the service, we gathered in the church social hall and ate sausage balls and cheese dip among my other favorite snacks made by my future mother-in-law. There was a cake with a picture of me preaching with a huge, “Congratulations, Pastor Evans!” on it.

A big day all around.

The night before the service, I sat upright the in bed lounging with my closest girlfriends who came into town for the celebration (Baptist ordained pastors as well) trying not to be so anxious.

Over a bag of chips on top of the brand new white comforter I finally had the money to buy in my first post-seminary job, I recounted to them my deepest fear about the hours to come.

It wasn’t about the music going awry.

It wasn’t about the having to kneel for so long at the front of the church without my legs falling asleep as people prayed prayers of blessing over me.

It wasn’t whether or not I’d be able to pray the benediction as I’d planned to say without being too emotional.

No, it was a cry of: “I don’t want my life to be over.”

I was having pre-ordination jitters; the kind where I really knew that this moment in my life was a really big deal.

And even as my pastoral support girlfriend team sought to calm me down saying that my life wasn’t really over. They said things like, “You’ll still have fun. . . We’ll make sure of that. Being ordained doesn’t make you any less human.” There was part of me that felt the weight of the shift.

It was like I was getting married to God. I had one last night of freedom.

I ate more chips.

And though I had done everything I could to finally make it to this day– the improbable feet as a Baptist woman in ministry getting a Reverend in front of her name– when I stood in front of the altar on November 4, 2006, the relationship of God and I being in an more intense partnership was never exactly what I envisioned it to be.

This would be no easy marriage.

Though I’d grown up with a pastor for a father and knew all the social expectations that came with the title, to be the Rev myself was entirely new. Because all of the sudden the expectations didn’t just come with my family name but it was what I’d chosen.

I’d chosen to be the one who would be asked to publicly pray more than the norm.

I’d chosen to be the one who would be asked to stand the gravesides of the grieving, the bedsides of the sick and on the doorsteps of the bewildered seekers.

I’d chosen to be “on call” 24-7 when pastoral emergencies arose in a congregation.

I’d chosen that when the day came that I was legally married to a man that he’d be the kind of man that also supported the marriage I’d been pursuing long before we’d ever met.

But as is with most marriages, as it was with my ordination, it was not a one-sided deal.

God long before had chosen me.

Not that I was more special or “called” than others with different kinds of work, but that this was my path to walk with God.

And in many ways my “fear” was indeed right on– my life as it was before 11/4/06 was over.

In this new relationship that God and I would share together, greater discipline and sensitivity to the Spirit would be required.

No longer could I ever assume that my faith was for my own edification alone, but was for the blessing of my community.

No longer could I act as though I didn’t need community, for as much as they needed me, I needed them.

No long could I live in such a way that forgot the day that God and I got married– for if their ever came a time when I felt like a new vocational path was given to me– I’d need to release this marriage in a public way just as it was given to me.

Being married is a long-term commitment.

Seven years ago it all began. Together God and I are still on this journey.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this series coming soon . . . Seven years later.

May 20, 2013

Not All Worship Is the Same

I’ve been around church for years. And I think I’ve seen so much of what makes church, church these days–

Traditional Worship
Contemporary Worship
Contemplative Worship
Worship by the Common Book of Prayer
Worship where tongues are spoken
Worship where hands are raised
Worship in shorts
Worship in suits
Worship with shouts
Worship in silence
Worship from the pews
Worship from the pulpit

Is there a correct way to worship?

Is there a way of worship that is more pleasing to God?

Is there a worship style that will get more people to attend your church?

Such are the kind of questions church folks like to ask each other. Such are the kind of questions that church folks like to think they have complete certainty about.

We go to conferences to seek to worship in mass numbers. We go to conferences to learn better ways to lead our kind of worship. And we go to conferences to learn about the latest trends in worship.

But is such worth all our energy? What does God think of all our shuffling around like this? Does “better worship” or “bigger worship” really help us draw closer to the Divine?

I’m not so sure.

We’ve become good students at the art form of worship, but we’ve lost sight at what encountering God looks like– the kind of God that Annie Dillard says we need to wear crash helmets to experience in church. We’ve lost sight of believing that worship begins with a relationship. Worship begins with a desire for adoration of the One who is greater than us all– who could never to be controlled

And no fancy templates or worship orders are always needed. We can worship with or without drums, the piano or the organ.

And most of all, it’s never about emotion alone as is the most popular trend in so many churches today– it’s about an alignment of our entire being.

And worship most of all is not about us– not about what we “get out of it.” Not about the feelings we leave a worship service with and most of all worship is not for worship’s sake. Worship, as given to us in the Christian context is about setting our feet on holy ground. Holy ground which we may “feel” once in our lives– or if we are lucky maybe more . . . but the emotion is never guaranteed.

Consider this wisdom from Roberta Bondi about the emotional traps of whatever kind of worship practice we choose:

“If we have a powerful religious experience, we need always to remember that just because a religious experience is powerful it is not necessarily from God.”

Bondi goes on to ask us to consider these questions in our discernment of worship: “Does this experience make us feel singled out and either superior or not accountable to others in or out of the community because of it? Does it lead us to be judgmental of others, to say who deserves to belong to God’s people and who does not? . . . OR does this experience give us insight into ourselves, others or God? Do its insights hold good over time, or was it simply an emotional high that not only wears off but makes us seek another?”

If an experience of God in church leads us to want more of the experiences (the high of it all) and not God alone, then it is not worship at its best. BUT, if an experience changes us from inside out, turning over in us bone and marrow, thought and feeling, then it is worship that is about to change the world. It’s heaven come to earth.

What I most like to tell people as a pastor is: if you feel the need to raise your hands in a “quiet” church: do it. If you feel the need to cover your head in reverence in a “high” church: do it. If you feel the need to sit reflectively in a “loud” church: do it.

I think the sooner we stop trying to manufacture experiences of God, the sooner we’ll find the Holy in whatever tradition our worshiping life takes us.

October 16, 2012

Writing In Other Places

For all of you faithful blog readers out there, I wanted to take this Tuesday morning to say thank you for reading! It means so much to me that you’d share some of your precious time with me and my musings. And second, I want to let you know that if you enjoy reading here, I also write in several other places on a regular basis.

It has been a gift over the past almost two years to write commentaries for the Associated Baptist Press and now also for the Associated Baptist Press blog.

I’ve recently published articles at each of these sources if you want to check them out. Since it’s Pastor Appreciation Month, I thought I’d share along the lines of this theme in both places:

On the Main Site: “Re-thinking pastor appreciation.”

On the blog: “Where pastors find support.”

I’ve love to hear your feedback on this topic, both from clergy and non-clergy alike. What should we be doing to encourage our ministers? Or is this topic too over promoted and thus needs no more conversation at all?

Blessings to you all!

May 3, 2012

A Tired Pastor

You are out of words.

People seek from you what you don’t have anymore.

You plan retreat and they come and find you.

Pray for me, pastor.

Visit me, pastor.

Solve my problems, pastor.

What do you do?

With compassion, you keep going.

You get out of bed.

You bathe.

You get dressed.

You show up.

You keep trying.

“The peace of Christ be with you.”

You search the far corners of your heart, hoping there is some gem there.

You hope your morsels are enough to feed the five thousand sitting at your doorstep.

And, you plan vacation again.

You count the days.

You look for light.

You run toward it.

And you hope when all is said and done that there will be a good story to tell.

A really good one.

A story of unbelievable grace.

A story that feeds the five thousand with your morsels that have become loaves of bread.

March 6, 2012

Preacher Goes to the White House

Tomorrow morning, I will be a part of a 65+ other Baptist pastors on a “Goodwill” delegation to the White House. Our group which includes such cool pastors as those from this church, and this church and this church among many others from all over the country. Together, we will meet with senior White House staffers to discuss issues we see facing the those we serve in our congregations and other ministries.

According to organizers, this is the agenda: “We will get to express concerns, ask questions, speak morally about the budget, taxation, immigration, health care, war, criminal justice, the environment and other issues. We will get to share what concerns us as congregational leaders, what’s on our hearts as moral leaders, what community needs are pressing, what our churches do that works to advance the common good. We will also get to hear how administration officials see issues, how they explain their purposes and goals of policies.”

So, on behalf of you, my blogosphere community, what would you want to ask the White House Staff if you could? I’ll be happy to take your questions with me and report back. What fun it is to live in Washington, D.C.!

January 19, 2012

Something to Celebrate: Deacons

Any leader is only as good as their team mates and back-up support on call. This is what I know from being a pastor.

When I first came to Washington Plaza, as the pastor, with only two other part-time staff members to help carry the load, I had no pastoral back-up. (Not even a retired minister in the mix). I worried a lot when I was away for conferences or vacation about what might come up. (My plea to those ill: Please wait to die until my vacation is over).  

Furthermore, to expect the pastor to be and always do all of the pastoral care, I knew was unhealthy and unbaptist (we love the priesthood of the believers after all).

So, I inquired of the church leadership why we did not have deacons. No one really could give me a good reason. My response became: “Why not?”  (It all went back to the previous pastors’ preferences, it seemed). Not only would deacons help me, but I knew it would be a blessing to the congregation. It would be a great opportunity for some very kind and spiritually aware members to live into their giftedness. A win-win!

So, in 2010, we engaged in a year-long study of the visions of what deacons would look like in the congregation– the Washington Plaza Baptist way– and came up with a plan. We’d follow the model of the early church and elect deacons to be spiritual leaders and servants among us. We’d call out those in our community who we felt had the gifts and interest in this kind of service through a nomination process. And, then we’d ordain each of them in a formal service of blessing their future ministry as pastoral care givers in our midst. To give the deacons the support they’d need for their 3 year term of service,  we’d pledge to meet monthly as a deacon body to share joys and concerns of working alongside the families we’d been given to look after. And, no, the deacons, contrary to the standard in many Baptist churches, would not serve in an administrative capacity. We’d leave this to the Church Council.

November 2010 marked the first deacon ordination service in over two decades at Washington Plaza.  It was a joyous day as you can tell from this previous post. It was one of those days as a pastor when I felt like God’s spirit was especially cheering us on saying, “You are moving in the right direction as a congregation.” Who says an ancient tradition can’t be re-born in fruitful ways for the modern context?

This month, the official one year anniversary of our first deacon’s meeting, we did some self-reflecting as a group. Though we’ve had a lot of learning to do over the year, I’ve been so proud of the ministry I’ve watched our deacons provide in their service to the church.

One of our current co-chairs wrote this piece to share with the congregation more about what the deacons have been up to in the last year. I thought I’d share it here so you could hear more of this co-labor of love.

Dear Church Family:

It been a little over a year since the deaconate was re-established at WPBC, and thus it is an appropriate time to update you on what we have been doingand plan to do.  You installed Rainy Barsella, Leomia Brunson, Kevin Hagea, Don Mohl, Shirley Rees, Carolyn Rieth, and Jeffrey Thigpen as deacons; personal commitments prevented Jeffrey from continuing active service, and Richard Williams agreed to serve in his stead at mid-year.

First and foremost we are all committed to our role as helpers to the congregation and the church.  It has been our goal not to be noticed, but rather to quietly walk among you and provide support as needed.  We see our primary task as being there for each of you in all the seasons of your life.  It is this role that has motivated us to undertake a year-long study of pastoral care and spiritual direction using Jean Stairs’ book, Listening for the Soul.  The study has added depth to our ministry which we hope to grow into fullness in the coming year. 

As the first step in this we have begun the practice of “shut-in” communion.  Each of us who has participated has been moved and sensed joy in the expansion of fellowship to those who are unable to join in our services. It is this area—strengthening the ties that bind the WPBC community together—that will continue to be the focus of our ministry.  It not our task to be substitutes for Pastor Elizabeth, but rather to be aids in ministry, tasked to insure that at no time does a need of this community go unmet.  In this context, we encourage you to share with your deacon who stands ready either to directly help, or to seek spiritual or physical help as needed; for we believe that each one of you is most precious to God and to WPBC.

October 18, 2011

Art, Pastoral Life and Books

The pastoral life like any other profession, I believe is an art form. To practice it is to create: to explore the unknown deep waters of life through practice, mistakes, more practice and more mistakes and hopefully come out with something beautiful on the other side.

One of the best things I do to stay grounded in the art of pastoring is befriend and stay in close friendship with a couple of pastors who I know are on a similar journey of growth as pastoral artists. Though something as simple as going to lunch regularly with other Revs or finding moments in our hectic schedules to remain an important part of each other lives, I make my membership in an artistic community.

To foster this type of togetherness, sometimes we just talk about what is going on in our lives (you know even pastors need a pastor), sometimes we attend church or denominational functions together, sometimes we get our nails done together (the female pastor friends types). In these get-together ideas are shared among us. “Hey, what are you preaching on for Advent?” Or, “Have you ever taught a book study on this topic?” And, new practices for ministry are brought up, “What if our congregations did this together?” or “Have you ever considered partnering with this para-church group?” And then there is the all important question: “What books are you reading right now?”

But, there are some books I can’t read with other pastors. In fact, I refuse to read them as much as I want to be respectful of the interests of my colleagues.

I won’t read books that are poorly written or come from a tradition that do not affirm my existence as a female pastor. There’s so much I have to learn from those I first respect, so good to start there, right? And, I won’t read books that have prescriptive ideas of a one-size fits all approach to ministry.

Recently in a clergy meeting, we decided to read the book: Becoming the Pastor You Hope to Be recently published by the respected Alban Institute. Even though I suspected this volume would be one of those that I didn’t like very much, I picked it up and tried to read as much as I could. And after 50 or so pages I really wanted to throw it across the room. It all seemed like well-meaning, but scripted advice. For to be told the four things you need to do to be a good pastor is like giving a kid you think has the talent to be a good artist a paint-by-number kit and saying: “There’s your training.”

Churches like paintings, are made up of unique people, settings and histories, so to give advice in this way to its leaders– though some of it may be good common sense– is to assume that all of this uniqueness doesn’t matter. It assumes that doing ministry in an urban setting in Washington DC in a Baptist church is the same as doing as ministry in a rural setting in Wyoming in a Catholic parish, which of course just doesn’t work.

If we truly see ourselves as pastor artists, then, I think some expanding our horizons is in order. There is not really a church growth plan in a box that is going to teach us everything we need to know to run “good” or “successful” churches. Artists after all become more creative and interesting the more they create outside the normal boundaries and experiment.

Recently, I read a quick page turning novel, which did more for my creative life than any “how to” volume could. Cutting for Stone follows the lives of two boys from birth to adulthood, growing up with adoptive doctor parents in Africa and is full of unexpected twists, turns and vivid scenes that made me feel like the characters were actually friends of mine. Deep in the story are truths about the human condition of pain, loss, jealousy, and redemption. It was a mine of diamonds for the pastoral life that I’m still mulling over even though I finished it weeks ago.

With encouragement from my clergy friends, a bookshelf full of novels and other “non churchy” books, I’m going to keep reading and experimenting with this life I’ve been called to lead. Though today feels like one of those “blank canvas” type of days, I hope that by the time my work is through for the day I’ll have some creative ideas to what might be coming next . . .

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July 28, 2011

A Word to My Sisters

When I began the journey into the strange world called being a Baptist female pastor, I knew there would be challenges. I knew there would be folks who would throw the Bible at me wondering if I believed in the same gospel as them. I knew I would have trouble finding positions to serve that my male colleagues would obtain with ease. But, what I didn’t know is that some of my toughest critics would be my sisters, those who had come before me or joined the ranks of being a woman in ministry.

I once worked with a female supervisor who made a very big deal about wearing closed toe shoes in the pulpit. No exceptions during the time I worked under her. What was the big deal about open toed shoes– too sexy? I laugh about it with this colleague now and wear open toed shoes in the pulpit regularly. And, I’ve never heard complainants about my shoes being a distraction . . .

I have a colleague my age who was told once by an older female supervisor that she had to always wear pantyhose to church– even if she wore pants and even in the summer. Why? Don’t dare show one’s skin as a female? I have been known not to wear hose to church in the summer especially as I regularly preach in a robe over my clothes anyway. No one can see my legs after all, so who cares?

I supervised a female seminarian once who had just finished her initial preaching class the semester before with a female professor at a Baptist seminary. When I asked her some of the most memorable things she learned, she was quick to say:”We spent a whole session without the men in the room with the professor describing what kind of bra we should wear when we preach.” What??? There are no words for this.

The more I’ve learned about the “backstories” to these encounters of mentoring, the more I’ve also heard that the older women who teach such things usually don’t exactly know why they believe so strongly in these practices. It is just what they do. It was another woman who put the fear of God in them about shoes, hose and bras for preaching that they felt the necessity to put that same fear into their younger colleagues.

To all of this, I say it must stop.

To be a woman in ministry is not to become less of a female or to try to achieve some level of perfection so that we reflect well on our older mentors as one blog post yesterday seemed to suggest.

We, as women need to stop being the worst critics of one another.

Sure, appropriate dress, appropriate speech, appropriate presentation of our appearance are important professional development learnings, but my sisters, let us not take out the struggle of how hard it has been to get where we are on each other. There are some expectations that go beyond the realm of what it means to be human.

My sisters, practice kindness wear fun shoes while you do it.

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