Newcomers and New Questions

In this fourth week of learning about church administration, I’m learning about being like a “CEO” and communication. If you want to follow along, this week I’m reading and reflecting on the chapters titled, “Oversight (Being CEO) Is a Worthy Calling,” and “Communication: Ministry Means Messaging” (pgs. 143-199) of Church Administration by Robert N. Bacher and Michael L. Cooper-White.

This past weekend I taught a new member’s class for the first time. We had about ten people made up of young families, couples old and young, and some on their own. I got to steward my experience from the last eight months of internship with a hope and a prayer, and hopefully I represented our congregation well.

Reflecting on it now, I know I want to share about all the wonderful stories I heard, thoughtful and open conversations we had on church, LGBTQIA, communion, and Theology on Tap, all the beautiful and broken people I met, and an ADORABLE infant who will be the youngest new member in the next couple months. But I truly want to stick to the administrative side of it. I don’t mean to paint “administration” and “human moments” as polar opposites. In fact I’m finding that they’re more intertwined than I thought.

This week Bacher and Cooper-White responded to 1st Timothy 3:1 by saying, “Such a ministry of oversight [someone trusted to lead a congregation or region], whether as bishop of a diocese or pastor of a congregation, inevitably includes administrative dimensions” (144). This is all too true. As with all pastoral interns, I came into a congregation with systems and a culture already in place, churning, and shaking. So when I asked our Office Administrator if I could make copies of the forms I knew we were going to have the new members fill out at the end of the evening, I saw that there was one that was used a while ago but hadn’t been brought out recently.

In the spirit of the old form, I created something new: “Harvesting of Gifts, Interests, Passions, and Growing Edges,” where you can find things like “Telling stories,” “Comforting people who are sad,” “Making people laugh,” and “Making breakfast,” to select under I enjoy/want to learn more about… The other column are options (strengths and talents) to check for If I were to guess, I think I am…

The form can’t be more than 20 lines long, but it gets people identifying their gifts and growing edges, while giving staff members a way to introduce and connect them with people at our church who can get a new person to feel like we’re their people, and they’re our people. Over half of the people there filled it out and I can’t wait to connect them with people who are experts at giving new folks opportunities to share, serve, be known, and feel like they belong.

Prepping the multi-media, scheduling guest speakers, making sure there was enough material for participants without killing too many trees, answering emails, coordinating with the Office Administrator to invite people, following-up with staff connectors, expressing thanks and asking for previous teaching content, crafting an agenda, making copies, playing with babies (ok maybe not the last one)–were all part of the administrative picture of this wonderful New Members class.

My role as facilitator, teacher, and pastor was to set the table; Bacher and Cooper-White write, “the way the table is set for a meeting will have a significant impact on its ultimate results” (169). I didn’t make the dinner, but I confirmed with the cook that we could squeeze in two more for dinner. We set out dark chocolate candies to hold people over for the dinner break an hour in to my presentation. But I also set the table by setting expectations and setting the space to maximize the learning and connection of the people gathered there.

I shared with them the objectives for the evening, why they were there, and what I wanted them to think and dream about together.

Believe it or not, this whole church thing isn’t 100% unchanging (!). God’s promises are unchanging, but the Holy Spirit has a funny way of blowing people in (and out of) communities and bringing with them (or leaving room for) new questions, new perspectives, new backgrounds, and new pairs of lens with which we read the Bible and the world. I hope I established a space to share how our church is sensing God’s call, and also invited these new members to imagine how their presence and new contribution might enrich this congregation’s response to God’s call and vision for this church. I’m grateful for the staff people that supported me in this teaching, and I’m excited for more opportunities to engage with ministry and administrative tasks in new and creative ways!

Is there a particular class, activity, service, or project that you facilitate regularly that engages in administrative tasks that enrich that experience for your participants? Or do these administrative tasks do the opposite? What’s a way that you engage in administrative tasks with joy and gratitude?

Coloring books and being a chaplain

I can see those two fancy squatty buildings on the west side of the metro that I see as we drive on highway 100. I can see a half dozen cranes that look like they’re protecting the new football field construction in downtown Minneapolis. I can see the roofs and windows of hundred-year-old buildings that have been refurbished, repurposed, and reconstructed over and over again to house the now world-class medicine-organization, which is the hospital that I work for this summer. This is my classroom. This is my parish. This is by far the weirdest class credit I’ve ever taken. This is by far the most high-stakes class credit I’ve ever taken.

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Since switching from the Master of Arts back to the Master of Divinity, I get to take the pastor-track-related credit, Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), which many refer to as the, “just get it done” credit. Just get through it. Take it in the summer – it’s longer hours but fewer weeks. Sounds good to me.

But once I got here, got my badge, my employee parking pass, my pager, and our rotating on-call pager and code blue pager, something felt different than, “just get it done.” Once I saw the list of patients names who wanted a chaplain to visit them, once I read why they were there, once I heard their stories of purpose, desires to walk, meaning, oops, oops again, heartache, the people they miss at home, and the people they wish would move out, I realized this is much more than “just get it done.”

True, this is chaplaincy. My task in this credit is to be a chaplain, which is a different flavor of pastoral-congregational ministry, the route most consider when they enter the MDiv program. I’m the chaplain for my assigned unit, and each intern, resident chaplain (super intern), and board certified chaplain has an assigned unit. At my unit I’m the one who usually asks nurses and physicians, “What’s going on with them?” before I say hi, and sometimes I get asked by nurses and physicians, “What’s going on with them?” Here, I am becoming known. I’m their chaplain. I hope I get so lucky as to be missed come August.

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Instructions for life, and for chaplaincy, I think!

Sometimes a chaplain visit is requested on my unit, but more often than not my day is guided by following energy. I follow the energy as a nurse struggles to finish out recording a note and connect with other units and we talk about how lame it is when shifts don’t end when they’re supposed to. I follow the energy as a patient just glows at the mention of walking around the lake, and she tell me it feels like “freedom,” and then we draw pages together in a nature coloring book (yes that happened, it was awesome). I follow the energy when I pass a waiting room and glance at the serious folks in there, and then walk back to merely sit and talk about whatever they want to talk about for 20 minutes.

In the midst of this, Timothy (The best. Spouse of the year. Thanks for letting me beat you at tennis later.) and I are calling moving truck people and looking up on Google maps the distance between stops between here and Washington state, as we start a new chapter out there in September. That will come soon enough.

But for now I’m just trying to be as much Allison as I can while also being a chaplain. I’m sure some use CPE to “try on” what it means or feels like to be a pastor or a chaplain. I don’t think that’s for me. What I think is working, is being myself, while showing up in the world through this vocation as a chaplain/pastor. Who knew it took so much courage to show up as yourself. But it’s a good challenge, a good opportunity. And I get to use colored pencils and talk about where we want to live when we grow up.

I’m not sure what’s next. I just know who will be there: 1. Allison, 2. God.

Lifelong learning: In the space of “What happens if…?”

Welcome to post number four of four for my independent study on adults and lifelong learning! I had a lot of fun collecting my thoughts and questions in my my first three posts on describing the current situation of adults in American life. All of this is heavily informed by Robert Kegan’s In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life.

To remind ourselves, these are the five ways of making meaning according to Robert Kegan, illustrated by PhD candidate Steve Thomason:

For this last week I’ll be exploring how to lead in a congregational context where I, as a pastor, might provide care for my people as a crisis occurs, knowing there are multiple ways of meaning-making represented in the congregation. In the pews are a diversity of theologies, values, family of origin stories, and ways of making meaning. Knowing this, it’s not our job as pastors to make sense to every single one of these people, but it’s our task to provide them with ways to make meaning as they sort out their worldview.

Please note that this post will be soaked in privilege as someone seeking ordination to be a pastor through earning a Master of Divinity. People who are not pastors are loved by God and have the capacity (and beyond) for the kind of leadership I’ll describe here. For the sake of making this an effective case study, I will focus on one specific kind of leadership (pastor) because I will be one (or at least hope to be one).

To make “the rubber hit the road” with these five ways of making meaning, I want to consider a case study, like a crisis a church might face. Unfortunately it’s a dark one, but we live in a dark world sometimes. One kind of crisis that is specific and unfortunately reoccurring are shootings nearby or on campuses of schools. Since Columbine, I think everyone has had the thought, “That would never happen here,” and then a shooting happens near your home or where you grew up.

As pastors, we’re called to hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper/Twitter feed in the other hand. We’re called to care for people, not fix people. We’re called to co-lead and co-create, not dominate conversations, spaces, or worship leading. In my denomination (ELCA), pastors are often identified as those who focus on, “Word and Sacrament,” and maybe this is what people mean by “Word and Sacrament”: holding the sacred conversations, spaces, and writings (Word) while helping others see God showing up in the tangible realities of our daily lives (Sacrament).

So what does it look like for a pastor to hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper/Twitter feed in the other? What does it look like to care for people, and co-lead/co-create with them when a school shooting happens in their community, knowing that multiple levels of consciousness/meaning-making are represented in their congregation and surrounding community?

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Communities and churches can learn about team-leadership from these pandas!

 

In one way, I’ve actually done this before. On the evening of the April 2007 Virginia Tech shootings, I was working the front desk of my residence hall at Pacific Lutheran University. I gathered together other campus leaders and staff to put on a candlelight vigil and about 100 people came from campus and the community. It mattered to me that people had a place to go if they were scared, angry or lonely.

I thought about softening the blow with a nice, kind Bible verse. But the kind of response required to a school shooting needs to be precipitated by community relationships, emotional competency by the congregation, and serving our neighbors together, as church people and non-church people. This “prep” and the response itself is a challenge and almost unimaginable how such a feat might be met. I’m guessing it has been a struggle for pastors in the past. It will be a challenge for pastors in the future. But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean we should shrink away from it. I think I’ll start there.

I think it wouldn’t be smart to hide. This is a time when it’s a blessing and a curse that part of the role of a pastor is to be a Christian public leader, emphasis on leader and public.  I think holding community conversations (first agenda item: prayer) would be a wise and welcome move. Dispersing a survey on “what kind of education would you like to see or hear or learn from,” when really people are craving person-to-person conversation, would not be helpful. Not that I’ve ever been in this situation, nor wish to ever have to be in this situation. But that’s one thought.

People with 3rd order consciousness (see above video, from In Over Our Heads) see value in themselves as an individual, but have difficulty in seeing themselves as important to society. It would be easy for them to understand themselves as victims of these horrific crimes, or be anxious and anticipate themselves as being victims of future shootings. Shifting language from victim to survivor might be helpful, but that is how some (more than some) make meaning. In crisis mode, we either freeze with fear or we fight to make it right. Creating a structure to articulate our feelings and desires to help would be helpful especially for 3rd order thinkers.

And it’s not like those in 4th order (see above video) are doing much better. They see that our culture, community, or congregation is one among many cultures, communities, and congregations. Empathy might come from this, but also a feeling of helplessness. What can I do, if “that” culture of violence and hatred can terrorize “our” culture/community/congregation? This is of course facetious, because “that” culture is our culture. We are a culture that condones violence and racism and micro-aggressions against those at the margins, socially, racially, and economically.

These are just my initial thoughts, and I think they raise more questions than answers. Like, how to befriend the local law enforcement, school board, teachers, families and students. Much like other fields of work, I think congregational work is becoming more inter-disciplinary. But I think serving as a pastor in the midst of a crisis will be hard work, and I won’t know what all will be required until it happens. But building relationships with those around me as soon as I get to a place or setting and being centered in my own work and connection with God will be helpful and crucial.

My Weekend in Detroit at the E

I’m sitting here with our cat, Buddy, curled up on my lap. Timothy and I have been in Detriot, MI for an extended weekend leading workshops and tabling for LEAD at the ELCA Youth Ministry Network Extravaganza. This annual event helps members of the Network (most are faith formation directors, youth workers, youth ministers, or children, youth, and family directors in some capacity) gear up for the 2015 Detroit summer nation-wide ELCA Youth Gathering, where they will chaperone their youth groups and young people (I did in 2009 for my home church, that year was in New Orleans).

The Extravaganza (E) is also a time for reconnecting with colleagues and friends from around the country, and doing some lifelong learning together in inspiring large group sessions, workshops, and intensive classes. This was Timothy and my first E. This year’s theme: story.

One of the stories contributed to our story-word-art during my workshop as we previewed Storytellers.

One of the stories contributed to our story-word-art during my workshop as we previewed my Storytellers curriculum!

It’s basically a coaching/lifelong learning nerd’s dream come true. This is the E’s 19th year. We all know that lifelong learning is a necessity to living a healthy, adventurous, and vocation-rich life. One thing that isn’t talked about as much though is the soil required for that lifelong learning: relationships. Without the trust of your neighbor, and without your neighbor trusting you, there’s no connection, advocacy, love, accountability, collegiality, or support that makes lifelong learning happen. Over and over again, I saw those foundations grow and strengthen all weekend long.

During one of the evenings all the 9 regions (region 1 is AK, WA, ID, OR, MT, tiny bit of Wyoming) met in different corners of the hotel. First, 10 people came. Then 20. Then 30. I think we had maybe 50 people gathered around in this basement ballroom lobby: youth workers, youth leaders, and children, youth, and family directors (and us outlaws but they loved us anyway, I’m still not quite sure why), and about half were from WA. I have never seen so many Washington state church leaders in one place outside of WA. And it wasn’t that they were just present. There were hugs, there were moments of “there’s more room! Come sit here,” there was applause for E first-timers as we introduced ourselves, there was patience, there was excitement. I recognized faces from PLU, and from my facebook feed who are now leaders at my own homechurch (St. Andrew’s Lutheran in Bellevue, WA), and even a familiar face from 2008 who served on Camp Lutherwood staff with me in Bellingham, WA. That was a squeal-y moment and one that probably made my husband wish he brought earplugs.

This ELCA Youth Ministry Network and it’s annual Extravaganza is one of the best kept secrets in the church. They have doubled their size from 500 to 1,000 members since October. These leaders go back home and meet locally once a month or so to ask for help, for prayers, for ideas of each other. Leaders learning with leaders. Leaders supporting leaders. There’s collegiality, there’s faith, there’s laughter, and most importantly, there’s trust. I’m hopeful there is a network and connection like this for pastors. I wish I could say I knew of one. I think that’s what synod assemblies try to be, but perhaps those networks are quieter. All I know is that Timothy and I aren’t youth workers, but we were welcomed, genuinely welcomed, in such a loving way by all these youth workers. People asked me to tell my story; like my whole story. It blew my mind. I secretly hope they will keep asking me to hang around because this is a network that will, and is, changing the church and the world with their vulnerability, their courage, their leadership, their authenticity, and their willingness to ask questions.

Timothy's contribution at the booth.

Timothy’s contribution at the LEAD booth.

Oh and I should mention, my workshop went great. I shared why stories have become really important to me in the last year, and an experiment I’m conducting to try my ideas out. My college freshman year roommate’s youth leader was there, random (St. Matthew’s in Renton, Briana’s dad’s now the bishop of NW-WA)! And other friends, and new friends from New York to Washington, Pennsylvania to California. Check it out here if you want to learn with me and others why stories and storytelling matters with your people at church. Shout out to Timothy who literally ran around the entire hotel and complex to retrieve decaf coffee (with cream and sugar) for me at 8:30am as I set up the room. You are a darling, sweetheart.

There are so many things I learned, and people I met, and things I’m grateful for from this weekend. Being present and answering, “What is LEAD?” at the LEAD booth was especially fun. So many beautiful stories of leadership were told and I’m so thankful people were willing to share those stories with me. LEAD’s mission to grow learning, listening, and lifelong leaders is so close to my heart. They’re located out of Houston, and Timothy is one of their coaches, and I think we’ll be connected with them and be huge advocates for/with them for a long time to come.

Some of the leaders connected with LEAD!

Some of the leaders connected with LEAD!

So thank you to the E leaders and coordinators who made this weekend such a rich experience! And thanks to LEAD and others for helping us get there. I can’t wait to see what learning and leading might grow out of this weekend!

Do you see it?

I graduated from college with the conviction that I wanted my life to make a difference. So when I turned to my church to see if they might help, I was given a copy of this book:

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ELCA resource text by Walter Bouman & Sue Setzer

My former classmates are probably rolling their eyes – yes, this is a book any ELCA seminary-bound person has skimmed or read. But here I found the basics of vocational discernment (something not just for to-be-pastors, but for everybody, weird I know) and the basics of what it means to do ministry, i.e. make a difference in the world because I feel so moved because of my faith. Vocation is not just about your job, but about your relationships, your gifts, how you serve, and what makes you feel like “this is what I feel called to do.” Discernment is thinking, wondering, and praying about it.

But the problem of this picture of vocational discernment is that it doesn’t honor different ways to vocationally discern. If you put me in a room with a Bible and say, “vocationally discern!” I would probably stare at the white walls with boredom, hoping that the door was unlocked and wondering when I would get lunch soon. But I fear this is the picture many people imagine when they approach “vocational discernment” that the church so fiercely endorses.

Here’s the problem. We have bodies. We have brains that allow us to question and identify when the wool is being pulled over our eyes. We have feelings and the capacity to thrive and fail. We feel good when we help people or animals or the environment. Vocational discernment is not just thinking: it’s getting lost, adventuring, experimenting (which is what the church is anyway, is it not?), protesting, learning, leading, sharing, trying, failing, trying again, capturing the high moments and trying again.

Not one person has the same equation that adds up to “this is what vocational discernment looks like.” No two people are carbon copies, therefore no two people vocationally discern the same way.

This means the church has the opportunity to welcome and embrace people who think about what makes them tick and serve joyfully in a million different kind of ways.

Vocational discernment is not for the weak. It’s for the courageous. It’s for the failures and the beautiful moments of learning. It’s for those who say to leaders, CEO’s, pastors, bishops, “This is not working, but I have an idea of how to make it work.” It’s for those who look around and see people blinded by insecurity and fear, and can’t do anything but want to rip off their shades and help them see the beauty around them. Not just “ooh, pretty!” beauty, but true, real beauty – when people make amends; when organizations say “Oops, we messed up, and we want to make it right;” when a friend invites the truth by insisting “But why is that the case?” or when a partner admits, “Maybe we’re asking the wrong question?” and identifies the advent of a new chapter.

Beautiful & colorful picture from Brazil, on Pinterest.

This is the kind of beauty that’s all around us if we only open our eyes to see. Young people are starving to hear their church say “I see it, too.” We want to hear that the way we think about God’s presence in our lives is beautiful and needed; we want to hear that our vocations are weird and beautiful and strange and just right – especially in a market where contract work dominates and part-time or full-time work with benefits is difficult to find or keep.

This is vocational discernment:

  • Noticing every time you have the thought, “I really should blog about that.”
  • Reaching out to a church administrator about an HR question and being asked, “What’s new with you? Can we get some coffee to catch up?”
  • Insisting on scheduling informational interviews around a certain class or community-based game.
  • Not looking at your phone for 48 hours as you explore a new part of the state you live in.
  • Realizing that you keep pinning the same kind of quote on Pinterest. It happens. I call it the Pinterest fog.
  • Hanging out with friends, and through the laughter hearing “I know! We could start the…”

Do you see it? This what I see: Authenticity without strings attached. Experimenting with people you trust. Creativity for the sake of play. Being vulnerable and praying it’s met with a connection on the other side.

This is one picture of vocational discernment, but one that echos the qualities that young people are starving to feel when they ask their church, the community in which their faith was first sparked, “Is there anything out there for me?” We want coaches, mentors, colleagues. We want churches to find the same beauty we see in the world, the beauty you can only see if you get lost.

Do you see it?

Mira voce: how to get more young adults at church

This post is part of a series of reflections during Lent. This year for Lent I’m trying to create more than copy once a week, inspired by the Portuguese phrase mira voce, prominently featured in my jam “Mira,” by Melody Gardot.

This weekend at a church synod/region event, my husband and I learned about stewardship. As per usual, we were in the 5% of attendees at a church function under the age of 35 – which I’m becoming eerily numb to after being on staff at a church for a year and after being a Lutheran for 26 years. Under the age of 35, a woman, 1/4 asian, from Washington state, tweeting my questions and comments about stewardship as I was inspired throughout the morning. I’m a little different, but I choose not to dwell on it, because that’s just awkward for everyone. And it wasn’t that awkward, until the closing comments when we were all asked to bring a young adult with us to the next year’s stewardship learning event.

This is not a unique request. You might have heard it before at your church or faith-based organization:

“How do we get more young adults here?”

I found myself sinking lower and lower into my chair. Elephant in the room. The demographic they wanted everyone to chaparone to the next stewardship event was sitting in the room – 10 people full, but we were still there. We were there.

We are leaders in your churches. We took the initiative to steward our time on a Saturday morning and learn more about stewardship. We were there.

“How do we get more [insert your favorite age/race/culture/group demographic here] people here?”

You see how this gets degrading, right?

This tale-as-old-as-time request tells me that my value is placed in my ability, with my one voice, to accurately represent people I’m similar to; thus, I am not as valued for my uniqueness, my strengths, my gifts, my leadership, vocations, passions, and my identity as Allison, a saint-and-sinner child of God.

It’s like it’s assumed we all had a meeting. All young people had a meeting and we came to a consensus of what we think and value. The last item on the agenda was to select a handful of hopefuls that best represent young people’s one passion, one contribution, own voice.

My gut tells me that we’re all afraid to talk to the young people already in our lives, so instead we elect each other to go out into the world and find lost young people and bring them to our churches. My gut tells me that our fear of connection and intimacy with those closest to us does not negate our ability to authentically connect with young people already in our lives – your daughter, your son, your niece, your grandkid, the young woman who bags your groceries every Saturday, the shy young woman who comes with her new extroverted husband to church, the young woman who comes to church because she just really likes to sing in the choir, the young person who likes your post on Facebook.

We’re already here.

As a church, we’re missing the point.

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“How do we get young adults here?” does not get to the heart of what you’re trying to ask. The underlying assumption in this question is a fear of not growing and a fear of the unknown. Questions about Christianity’s future can’t come from a place of scarcity and fear because Jesus did not serve out of scarcity and fear. Jesus served out of empathy, connection, authenticity and abundance. The very gospel we proclaim turns this question on it’s head to:

“Of the young person in your life, what does she/he value?” Spoiler alert: please, sweet Jesus, do not make a survey. Do not, do not, do not put this on a survey. Instead, get coffee. Show up. Email them about what you loved and what cultural references were confused about on the TV show “The Mindy Project” last Tuesday. Text them how pleasantly surprised you are on how well the Twins are doing. Ask them what they would do if money and student debt were not an issue. Take Discourse together, a class for 15- to 103-year-olds. (I would not be promoting this project unless I thought it changes people’s lives, so seriously, let’s talk.) Yes, you’ll have to tell the truth. But your sneaking suspicion is correct: if you ask a young person to be vulnerable and share what they think about life and God, you will too. That’s how connection works, thank you, Brene Brown.

It’s the people closest to us that are the hardest to exist with. I know I’m one of those “young people” who, to those closest to me, is hard-headed, stubborn, sarcastic, and anxious. But I also have dreams. They might be in-the-clouds dreams, but they’re tangible, strategically planned dreams that I will fight to make reality, just like my grandma fought for the right to vote and my mom fought to provide for her kids a brighter childhood than her’s. Dreams matter. Young people in your life want to tell you about their dreams. They’re not a group to seek out as a part of your mission committee. They are here. Your daughters, your sons, your nieces, your grandkids.

We’re already here.

This blog has no ownership or rights to music by Melody Gardot or Verve Music Group.