Saturday, April 28, 2012

Thoughts and Links

In 20 days I will have my Master of Divinity Degree.  I can't believe that.  I have been packing little by little and this morning I was packing away a shelf of knick-knacks (NOT my only shelf of knick-knacks, though I certainly wish it was) and I came across this candle that was a part of a worship service during orientation before I began my first year.  We went to a retreat center and talked about seminary and worshiped together and got to know each other.  It's funny-- I remember some of the conversations I had but I don't even remember who I had them with.  Some of my best friends now I can't even remember talking to at orientation.  In our classes, we share with one another some of the deepest parts of ourselves.  We are with each other through our greatest moments of doubt and certainty, and it's impossible to keep those emotions veiled.  There are students graduating this year who I feel like I know so deeply, and some who I may never see again who know things about me that no one else does.  That's the nature of Seminary, I think.  When I found this candle I remembered the worship service we had at the orientation.  We each had a stone which represented our fears and the burdens we carried that might prevent us from fully receiving God into ourselves as we enter this period of discernment.  We all sat in the chapel in silence (maybe Dr. Grundy was playing his guitar?) and in our own time we were to go set our burdens down on the altar.  I remember what my burdens were at that time-- too complicated and intimate to share here-- and I know that I've picked them up and set them back down countless times since then, but that moment still sticks with me.  It all came back to me in this tea candle, all covered in dust.  

Today we went to the Magic House, somewhere I've wanted to go for a couple years but it just felt really weird to go without a child.  So we waited as long as we could so Evelyn could *kind of* enjoy it.  She mostly just stared at everything.  She takes everything so seriously.  In photos it looks like she's never having fun, but I know her.  She had a blast.  

To conclude, there are a bunch of links I've been storing up to share.  Here we go. 

1. This is a blog I stumbled upon while writing my thesis, written by a woman named Judith who is exploring her namesake and the art attached to her.  Since a huge chunk of my thesis is about Judith and the visual arts, it's interesting to me.  I take issue with her interpretations most of the time, but she's got some okay humor and she's really good at digging up Judith art!  

2. The Top 10 Reasons why men shouldn't be ordained, an angry but still humorous feminist rant.  

3. A blog I've been reading daily about dressing for the pastoral office.  She's humorous and she's got sound theology and she's helping me to figure out how to dress better.  I've also been developing my own Pinterest board to help me figure out how I want to dress now that I'm a grown up-- whether I'm at work, at the park, or having a date night.  I've gotta figure this out eventually.  The Junior's department is off limits now.  

4. We've been really loving the search for good children's music.  We listen to the Dan Zanes Pandora Channel almost daily, but I've been really loving Elizabeth Mitchell.  You wouldn't believe how many well-known artists and bands have children's albums-- even Sweet Honey in the Rock.  You just have to dig!  

5. A sermon by my friend and mentor in ministry Rev. Curt Ackley, in which he talks about my Statement on Ministry, which is currently being distributed as a part of my profile for my search and call process.  I'll post my whole Statement here sometime too.  

Adios, friends!  Peace to you all! 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

FCCWG Benevolence Auction

A little less than a year ago when my tenure at First Congregational UCC of Webster Groves began, one of my first tasks was to sit in on the Benevolence meeting, in which a small group of church members distributed the funds raised at the Benevolence auction.  The church was distributing not only $15,000 that was calculated into the budget, but an additional $15,000+ that had been raised at this auction.  The funds went to local not-for-profits like Every Child's Hope and Webster Rock Hill Ministries, an area food bank.  I was so delighted to sit in on that meeting and send $30,000 out into the community to serve, feed, and heal God's people.  That's a lot of money for a medium-sized congregational church.  I left that meeting feeling so full of hope and excitement for the next year when I would be serving this church. 

I continued to watch the church serve the community in such beautiful and healing ways.  I saw the congregation's support of one another through adoptions and births, deaths and illnesses, retirements and career moves, and so many other life joys and struggles.  I saw the congregation's awesome outreach through the UCC's Mission: 1 campaign.  We walked in the 4th of July parade with WG-CARE (Webster Groves Clergy Alliance for Racial Equality), and watched a Green Team develop and help the congregation to understand how taking care of God's planet is essential to our faith.  I experienced the long-lived traditions of giving handmade gifts, making sandwiches for those who are homeless, visiting homebound members, and housing other area ministries.  I could go on and on...

Well, on Saturday I had the glorious pleasure of attending this year's Benevolence auction.  I went full circle around the church's year to see where all the money that we sent out into the community had come from.  I learned a few things while I was there, like that the auction started when the church was going through financial turmoil and wasn't able to give as much out of their budget as they used to (a problem many of our churches are seeing in the midst of mainline decline) and that it's possible to turn the church fellowship hall into a fun and classy night out with dinner and wine (and I'm not just saying that because I'm a full-time mom and full-time student and any night out would do at this point).  The auction items ranged from artwork by church members to antiques and collectibles to sports memorabilia to stays at members' vacation homes.  There was a silent auction and a spoken auction (something I've never experienced before).  It was so much fun, and what a great treat to see the way that the whole church-- members and staff-- worked together to pull it off.  

I didn't take photos while I was there.  I was thinking of waiting to post until after stealing a few photos from church members, but I've got too many other blog posts pending to put this one off (I still haven't written about my thesis!)  What I did take a picture of is this precious little ice cream table that we won at the auction for Evelyn and her sweet little friends to sit at and eat ice cream and color on a beautiful summer morning.  Obviously, she's a little small for it now, but isn't she precious?  

And we took a picture of all three of us right after getting home.  E was so ready for bed.  

And of course, had to share this photo of my little silly pie doing a back-flip so she can see her daddy.  

I could just go on and on about how proud I am of this congregation and the way that they are serving Christ in this community.  They are truly an inspiring vision of what it means to be Christian in 2012.  It's going to be hard to leave in a few weeks, but I can guarantee I'm bringing with me so much of what I learned from them.  They'll always be such a huge part of my work in God's Church.  

Friday, April 20, 2012

Ready to circulate!

I just signed the form authorizing the circulation of my ministerial profile! 


Do you think they'll take me seriously? 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

An Entry About Evelyn

Even though Evelyn never smiles for the camera, she does smile a lot.  The past few days she started doing this extra squint in her smile.  I know she got it from me.  She will smile like normal and then tilt her head a little and wrinkle up her nose and squint her eyes.  I do that to her all the time, and apparently she's picked up on it.  It's impossible to not laugh when she does it.  

She laughs now too.  She especially likes when she reaches for my mouth and I pretend I'm going to bite her hand off.  It's hilarious to her.  She also laughs when her daddy blows on her belly and she laughs at Yo Gabba Gabba.  She and her daddy both like Toodee the best.  The time we played her the Yo Gabba Gabba CD Uncle Paul got her for Christmas, she cried for 10 minutes because she heard it but couldn't see it.  (I swear, you guys, we don't watch it that much.) She hates being thrown up in the air or lifted high above my head.  When I do it, every single muscle in her body tenses up, and when I bring her back to me, she grips onto my arms with both hands like her little life depends on it.  Then she lays her head on my chest and slowly relaxes.  She gives kisses.  Big, slobbery, open-mouth kisses.  She gave them to me first, weeks ago, and just yesterday decided Daddy and stuffed animals are also worthy of the affection.  I take great pride in this, considering she smiled at Maic, every person with glasses, and every person under the age of eight at least a month before she smiled at me. 

Sunday was the first time since she was born that she didn't cry while I preached.  Since she was born, Maic always ends up walking back and forth with her in the Narthex during my sermons.  She hears me in the nursery and she won't stand for it.  I don't know if this is a sign of rebellion (ie: I don't wanna hear her preach) or a sign of support (ie: Get me out of this nursery; I need to be there for my Mama!) or a challenge (ie: I bet I can yell louder than you can preach!).  She also cries when I type on the computer.  This makes getting any work done very difficult.  She even wakes up sometimes when I type.  Sometimes I have to send an important e-mail to someone about school or something, and I'd be really embarrassed if they knew how slowly I typed it.  If I do one, maybe two letters at a time, sometimes she doesn't notice.  I look forward to seeing how she evolves into a PK-- Pastor's Kid.  

I finished my thesis today.  (Planning to write an entry on that soon) You'd think after all the time I put into it, hours of sleep I lost, and emotional roller coasters I went through while writing it, I'd be sound asleep right now, but I can't sleep.  A result of Coca-Cola, I think.  As I was laying in bed Evelyn started crying so I brought her next to me and nursed her until she fell back to sleep.  Usually, when she wakes me up at night (which is every night...twice) I am too grumpy to be grateful for her sweet little life.  I say something like, "Ev, seriously?" or "C'mon baby.  Go back to sleep."  But today, since I was already awake, I just looked at her for a while, stroked her hair, played with her fingers, and said to her what I don't say often enough.  "Thanks for being my baby."  

Friday, April 6, 2012

"Do you need to know where babies come from?"

I've mentioned before that Evelyn and I visit homebound members of the church together.  We go to nursing homes and sit and talk with folks, and they typically really enjoy seeing Evelyn.  She is always so sweet to them and truly is a little minister herself.  Well, this week we've been taking Holy Communion to homebound members since it's Holy Week.  Evelyn hasn't gone with me on every visit because it's a lot for her to handle, but I brought her to meet a woman named Eileen today who neither of us has met yet.  We went with another member of the congregation named BJ.  

Well, Eileen is particularly hard of hearing and didn't know who I was before I arrived with Evelyn.  The very first thing she said to me is, "Who takes care of the baby when you are at school?"  I replied, like I always do, "I go to school at night so my husband takes care of her" (except I might have said "her dad" instead of "my husband").  Her response-- "My husband and I planned for our babies.  Our children have children too and they planned for them."  I knodded.  She continued, "Did you plan for this baby?" 

I've been asked this question quite a few times by all sorts of people-- young and old, family, friends, and strangers-- and frankly, I think it's one of the rudest questions that could possibly be asked, no matter how close you are to someone.  I am a very open person, and I have offered the answer (if there really is one; it's a pretty loaded question!) to some people, and others I allow to come to their own conclusion.  Bringing a life into the world is a very complicated and personal endeavor, and I see no need to know whether or not it was "planned."  For us, Evelyn is alive and well and I'm glad she's here.  

Well, I didn't know how to respond to the woman's question.  Explaining the previous paragraph to a woman who is hard of hearing is pretty much pointless.  You really have to give yes or no answers.  I finally responded, "We're so glad she's here."  

Eileen was not satisfied with my answer.  She said, staring directly into my eyes, "Do you need to know where babies come from?"  BJ interjected and said, "Joanna is a great mother and everyone at church just loves Evelyn!" and then continued with an explanation about how we were going to take Holy Communion together.  Generally, when we do these visits I give an explanation that goes something like this: 
"At First Congregational Church of Webster Groves you are listed each Sunday in our bulletin so that we can remember you in our prayers.  We consider you to be a part of the Body of Christ and a member of our church.  We're bringing you Holy Communion because one of the things that it represents is that God is constantly inviting you to be a part of the Body of Christ, and we want you to know that just because you can't come to church doesn't mean you aren't a part of our community."   
I was so taken aback by the way that the woman had spoken to me that I pretty much allowed BJ to take over the explanation.  I truly didn't know what to say.  Well, BJ gave an explanation of Communion and I took the bread and began to hand it to the woman.  She pulled her hand away and wouldn't look at me.  I was surprised and turned to BJ and said, I think you need to give it to her.  She did, and she took it.  Realizing that it was important to the woman that I not lead, I whispered to BJ to say "This is the Body of Christ, broken for you," and she did.   I did the same with the wine.  We then said the Lord's Prayer together. 

As soon as we were done, the woman looked at me and said, "Do you know how this happened?"  pointing at Evelyn.  Shoot, I thought this conversation was over.  I said, "Yes."  She responded, "You can plan for when you're going to have a child."  I said, "Yes, I know."  (BJ, more gutsy than me, responded, "Not always!") She said, "Who takes care of her while you're in school?"  I said, "My husband does."  "You're married now?" "Yes." "Were you married when you conceived this child?" "Yes." BJ interjected, "You really shouldn't ask those questions to people, they can be very hurtful."  The woman responded, "But you were married.  Well that's good.  I'm so glad to hear that.  This is a very sweet baby."  

The rest of the visit was peaceful and joyful as can be.  

I have a lot of emotions about this visit and I'm still trying to process them.  Maybe you'll hear about it in a sermon sometime.  For now, I just wanted to tell the story.  

P.S.  Between this and having to explain breastfeeding and Communion to a five-year-old yesterday, I'm not sure anything in the world can truly prepare someone for ministry.  

Monday, April 2, 2012

Finding Wonder

I took an absolutely necessary and absolutely lovely day off this weekend with my family and our good friend Stacy for her birthday.  We went to the Shaw Nature Reserve which is associated with the Missouri Botanical Gardens, but I had never been there before.  

I love being in nature, because it is so easy to meet God in everything I see, which was exactly what I needed to continue working on my thesis-- a reminder of God's presence and encouragement.  It's due in 17 days now, and I'm just chugging along.  

The sermon I preached for my ordination interview was all about having a sense of awe for God's Creation. I talked about the way that Evelyn looks at things and how much amazement she has for everything she sees.  Some of the photos that we took on our hike at Shaw Nature Reserve are perfect illustrations for this sermon.   They reflect the sense of wonder for God's Creation that Evelyn is helping us to discover.  One of my greatest hopes for her is that she will always have this much awe. 

This one is not at Shaw Nature Reserve, but instead at Maic's work.
 Look at that wind in her hair!  She is so happy.

Feeling the wildflowers

So beautiful

Looking for Crayfish

Aunt Stacy found her a Twirly Twig

Carrying the twirly-twig Stacy found for her

Grabbing the branches

She found a Daddy Long Legs,
and watched it until it was out of her sight

Still watching the Daddy Long Legs

Watching the Dandelion blow

Aunt Stacy teaching Evelyn about how flowers reproduce

Look at that HUGE tree!

Evelyn's not the only one in awe-- I love the way he looks at her! 

She is so perfect.  

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