August 2020, A Note From the Preacher Woman

Beloved:

My mind woke up running song lyrics this morning. This is not unusual. Friends and family can attest that they can tell what kind of mood I’m in by what song I am humming. The Beach Boys is my go-to when I am anticipating a fun day (“Wipeout!”). Mike looks forward to hearing me hum “I’m an old cowhand, from the Rio Grand,” which for some reason I always hum when I am thinking happy thoughts about my husband (yippee kai yo kai yay!). An aria from Carmen often pops out (e.g. Habenera aka The rebellious bird) when I am busily engaged in my garden. I don’t preselect them. They just come to me. Sometimes, even I don’t know what kind of mood I am in until I pay attention to what I am humming.

This morning’s lyrics began with Julie Andrews—“raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.” This is not necessarily one of my favorite songs, so I thought about it for a moment, wondering why that particular song should come up on my internal juke box. Ah ha! It wasn’t about the snowflakes on eyelashes or bright paper packages tied up with string—it was about my favorite things! In moments when the news seems all dark, when injustice seems to be winning, when getting an allergy attack makes me wonder if I am about to succumb to Covid—I need some playfulness, some humor, some joy .

As I sat drinking my coffee, another tune popped up. I could remember the melody, but for the life of me, I could remember the lyrics. It was something about needing a little bit of something. I listed off things that I felt the need of—humor, whimsey, hope, laughter. Then I looked up songs that had lyrics that include “a little bit of…” You are probably already ahead of me here— but in case you haven’t pulled up the memory yet, it was a song by Johnny Mathis, and it goes like this…

Haul out the holly
Put up the tree before my spirit falls again
Fill up the stocking
I may be rushing things, but deck the halls again now

For we need a little Christmas Right this very minute…

It made me laugh. I am definitely NOT READY for Christmas yet! But then I read the rest of the lyrics:

For I’ve grown a little leaner Grown a little colder
Grown a little sadder Grown a little older

And I need a little angel Sitting on my shoulder

Need a little Christmas now
For we need a little music
Need a little laughter
Need a little singing, ringing through the rafter And we need a little snappy

Happy ever after
Need a little Christmas now.

Huh. Maybe I do need a little of what Christmas brings. A little music. A little laughter. A little singing (—scratch that, humming is safer). And definitely a little snappy happy ever after…

It would be easy when life gets hard to just wrap myself up in hopeful song lyrics and hermit in my own cave. I am not suggesting that any of us do that. But, on the other hand, I believe that there are moments when we need to give ourselves permission to allow our eyes to settle onto an enormous cat trying to fit into a tiny box, listen with joy at a baby laughing with her whole body, share pictures of our silly pets, hum Christmas carols in August. I invite us to allow our holy imaginations to dwell on those “favorite things” that create room around our hearts, our mind, our bodies. Perhaps Emily Dickenson says it the best:

Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul,
and sings the tune without words. and never stops at all.

Love to you all. Blessings, Pastor Nancy

July 2020, Note From the Preacher Woman

Beloved:

For the last three months, most of us (perhaps all of us) have
been operating out of Emergency Mode. We have made
decisions on a moment to moment, day by day basis, as we have
attempted to figure out the best path amidst the chaos that living
with a pandemic has created. And, really, I have been amazed by
the creativity and adaptive energy that everyone has shown.
Besides keeping worship going, feeding people, providing
information and resources to our neighbors—we have had
parades, celebrated milestones, and continued work on the
Memorial Prayer Garden and Labyrinth. We have begun the
process of creating outdoor meeting space that can be used for worship and other events while maintaining for physical distancing. The amount of time, energy, financial support, emotional encouragement, and patience is beyond counting. God is good. And, as I begin my fourth year as your pastor, I feel blessed indeed.

So, now what? We are in month four of our changed global reality. We are weary. None of us can live in emergency mode for long without paying a toll—physically, emotionally and spiritually. I can’t tell you how many conversations I have had over these last weeks about the exhaustion, depression and anxiety so many of us are experiencing. In emergency mode, our bodies are flooded with chemicals demanding fight, flight or freeze. Living in a chemical bath of that nature for days, weeks, months does not put us in an optimal condition to make good decisions, to tolerate frustrations, or to be patient enough to allow for our best selves to be in the driver’s seat.

This week I recalled the story of what historians now call the “Phony War.” At the beginning of World War II, Britain braced itself for air attacks from the Germans. They spent weeks preparing for invasion from air and sea. Air raid precautions, black out restrictions, food rationing, mandatory curfews, mandatory gas masks, limited public transportation, and children being evacuated to the countryside. It was an intense time of preparation and waiting. And then nothing happened. For weeks. And weeks. People began to resent the sacrifices they were making for a war that didn’t appear to be happening. They were frustrated. They were angry. The were resentful. The stalemate continued for eight long months. And then, the war became all too real.

Dealing with a pandemic these last three months might seem a bit like living with the “phony war.” We stayed home. We put off trips. We limited going to the grocery store. We sanitized anything that didn’t move out of the way. And nothing seemed to happen. Many, maybe even most of us, do not know anyone who has caught the virus. But some of us do. More of us will.

What I would like to suggest for us, Beloved, is that now is the time to take a deep breath and consider living into a phrase that Beth Ann Beamer said to me this week: “Buckle down and do right.” That pretty much covers it. We are a people of hope. We are in it for the duration. God walks with us—into the times of quiet waiting, and in the moments of greatest danger. I am so thankful that we are in this together.

Blessings and peace, Pastor Nancy

Notes From the Preacher Woman, June 2020

Beloved:

Remember that Vacation Bible School song, “I am the Church?”

I am the church, you are the church,
we are the church together.
All who follow Jesus,, all around the world, Yes! We’re the church together.
The church is not a building,
the church is not a steeple,
the church is not a resting place,
the church is the people!

Yup! That’s about right! If we didn’t know it before, we are definitely learning that now! We ARE the church—no matter where we are. Thank you, everyone, for being the church at home, in the grocery store, at the Food Pantry. We are in this together!

I wanted to give you a few updates about how things are going, and what things are looking like for our re-launch.

Jefferson County has been given permission to move into Phase Two of the State’s plan for reopening. This loosens the restrictions on businesses and gathering of groups. The Greater Northwest Phased re-launch plan is more gradual and restrictive than the state of Oregon’s plan. Our Bishop has repeatedly stated that we will follow the science first, and then dedicate ourselves to doing no harm. Therefore, three requirements must be in place before any relaunching of programs and worship in our buildings:

     1. The suspension of in person worship order set by our Bishop is lifted. The             current deadline is June 15th, at which time, the Bishop will either extend               the suspension, or allow it to expire. We will know this week.

  1. The governor of the state eases restrictions (which has happened).

  2. Each congregation prepares a plan following the Greater Northwest Guidelines, and submits it for approval to our District Superintendent. (We are working on it!)

Our church leaders have been in conversation about how best we can provide the greatest amount of safety to our congregations and neighbors. We don’t want to move ahead, and then find that we have to return to an earlier phase. Each congregation will be attending to their local context and situation as we seek to do no harm. So, where are we?

The Board has created a subgroup of folks who are carefully examining the documents provided by the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area. (Twenty-five pages of instructions, so be appreciative!) We are working on a draft for moving into Phase Two. Phase Two will allow up to ten people in the building for online recording for worship. Access to the building will still be limited, and worship will continue to be online.

After we receive permission to move into Phase Two, we will begin working on what Phase Three might look like, but we are not going to be in a hurry. We will do what we can to create innovative opportunities for worship, study and fellowship. God is providing extraordinary opportunities to live, love and serve.

Many blessings! Love to you all. Pastor Nancy

✦ Pastor Nancy is going to take some time off for a little rest and re-set. Worship on June 21st will be a selection of links for worship from other churches in our Greater Northwest Area. We would love to hear your impressions about what others are doing during this time of creativity and innovation.

December 2019, Note From the Preacher Woman

Happy Birthday, Baby Jesus!

Happy birthday, Baby Jesus.

Even when your birthday’s through.

All year long we remember,

Each precious gift we get from you.

–Clark & Jan Gassman

Baby Jesus has a grubby face. I supposed I should have expected it. I did manage to get the crayon off his head, but even with repeated washing and determined scrubbing with alcohol, he has the unmistakable marks of the many hands through which he has passed over the years. He doesn’t seem to mind.

The year I decided I wanted to send Baby Jesus home with folks during Advent, I knew I wanted a doll that looked like a newborn. There were a number of doll candidates in the church nursery, but none of them seemed quite right. I began looking online for something that might look a bit more like a baby, and less like a Cabbage Patch doll or GI Joe. I had no idea there would be so many choices. This brilliant idea had, unfortunately, hit me in mid-November, rather than August, so there were two important factors in making a choice—how soon it could be delivered, and how much money I was willing to spend. As tempting as it was to get an anatomically correct baby Jesus, I opted for a gender-neutral doll, and the assurance that it could be delivered within three days. I was all set.

On the first Sunday of Advent, I introduced the congregation to Baby Jesus. I invited people to volunteer to take him home for the week. The following Sunday, they were to bring Baby Jesus back to church and share the story of what the week had been like. They could take pictures, write up a little report, or just share some of their experiences.

A lot of parents and grandparents were familiar with the Flat Stanley paper doll that many schools use to encourage literacy. For those who are not familiar with it, “Flat Stanley” was originally a children’s book called Flat Stanley’s Worldwide Adventures by Jeff Brown. It is about a boy who mails himself to a friend, so they could have adventures together. A third grade teacher from London, Ontario, named Dale Hubert, took the book, and created a program to help his students get excited about reading and writing. The program he started in 1995 is now used world-wide to encourage literacy. A child colors a paper version the book character, and then sends him off to friends, relatives, or even famous people to have adventures, and then be returned to the student with pictures and a written report. So, I figured, if folks were game to have adventures with Flat Stanley, taking home Baby Jesus wouldn’t be that much more of a stretch! At least I hoped so.

Even so, I wasn’t at all sure that this idea was going to fly. There  were a number of possible scenarios that would mean my idea had flopped: I might not see Jesus again until after Christmas; Jesus might be left under some child’s bed to preach to the dust bunnies; or (horrors!) no one might volunteer to take him home!

I was totally relieved when Sara, a young mom with two sons, volunteered to take Jesus home the first week. After that, there was someone willing to take Jesus home throughout Advent, and on to Epiphany. One teenager took Jesus to High School with her. He went to Homeroom, got to see what a locker looked like, and apparently took long naps in the afternoons. A retired couple were surprisingly inventive. Jesus must have been exhausted by the end of the week: they played cards with friends; went on a horse and buggy ride; sledded with the grandkids (He fell off a few times, but never complained); and spent the evenings sitting reading beside the fire with his hosts. The reports, as they came in on Sundays, were greeted with great appreciation by the entire congregation. It was just delightful. The conversations continued past the official hour of worship, through coffee hour and into the week, as many folks considered what it would be like to have Jesus in our homes—the infant or the man. We might never have gotten there, without the help of a lifelike(ish*) baby doll.

My experiment would not have worked in every church I have served over the years. In fact, I tried doing it again a few years later, and it just didn’t take off in the same way as it did that first year. There are no guarantees when you are trying to catch the winds of the Spirit. But even if the response of the entire congregation had not been as effusive that first time, the risk would have been totally worth it, if only for the week that Sara and her boys took Baby Jesus home.

Baby Jesus, like the well-loved Rabbit who lived in the nursery in the beloved book, The Velveteen Rabbit, became real—grubby face and all. Sara hadn’t shared the entire story on the Sunday they returned Baby Jesus from his week in their home. It was a few days later, as we sat talking over a cup of coffee, that she explained how moved she had been by the whole experience. Sara hadn’t known what to expect from her two active boys. But from the moment they brought him home, things changed. They played with Jesus, shared their toys with Jesus, took him to the dinner table, wrapped him up in a blanket and took turns taking him to bed with them. Sara read them the Bible stories about Jesus, and as they sat holding Jesus in their laps, the stories took on a different feeling. They weren’t just stories anymore. Jesus wasn’t just a name in a book anymore. And just what, Beloved of God, could be better than that?

Happy Birthday, Baby Jesus.

*My daughter wasn’t totally convinced that he looked lifelike. But she kept her opinions to herself. She said his expression was a bit creepy. Personally, I don’t see it.

9/24/19, Weekly Note From the Preacher Woman

Beloved:

This week, I am helping lead a retreat at Suttle Lake. There are three of us leading. The other two leaders, Kate and Michael, have been leading this retreat for over thirty years. Last year, they decided it might be time to invite someone new into the mix, so they asked our camp director, Jane Petke for suggestions. Jane generously suggested they give me a call. Many of the participants have been coming a long time, but there are always one or two new people who find their way here each fall.

            The schedule of days is a lovely balance. We worship three times per day together. In the morning, we meet before breakfast and Kate leads us as we sing, read the day’s scripture and share communion. At 11:00 a.m., I am teaching Centering Prayer. Then at 5:00 p.m., Michael takes us through our scripture in more depth, as we dwell together in the meaning of the text. After dinner, there is a program based on a book that is chosen by the leaders each year. The rest of the time is up to the individual. Hiking, resting, reading, conversation, jig saw puzzles—or just sitting in the sunshine breathing deeply of the pine scented air.

            The program this year is based on a book by Sister Joan Chittister entitled: The Gift of Years: Growing older gracefully. The title might give you a hint as to the age group of our participants. (I am one of the few folks not retired.) But it is an excellent book, that Sr. Joan wrote the year she turned 70. She realized that her life was moving into a new place, an unexplored place, and she wanted to prepare for it with grace.

            In one chapter, Chittister quotes Meribel Le Sueur, who in her nineties wrote: I am luminous with age.  Oh! I want to be that too!

            When I was young, I sometimes visited a nursing home with an adult friend. Some of the folks were simply lovely, but others were difficult to talk to—they were downright cranky. After we had done some visitation, one of the workers at the center taught me something that I have never forgotten. She said, people don’t change who they are when they reach old age—the just become more of who they have been all along. Whoever I have practiced being for all the years of my life, is who I become when I am old. Just MORE. There are no filters. All the world can now see who it is you have spent your life practicing to be. I want to be the old lady in the nursing home (if I have to be in a nursing home) whom all the nurses and staff love. So much so, that they save me all the extra chocolate pudding! I’m not quite that adorable yet, but I’m working on it.

            Now that I am a person of a certain age, I am beginning to get notices online and in the mail about Medicare and old age supplemental insurance. There is no avoiding it. I’m getting older. And I am starting to reflect about what it is that I have been becoming all these decades that are now in the past, and who I still hope to become as my life enters into unknown territory.

            When an infant is born, she is born spiritually naked. Totally vulnerable. Fully knowable. Open and waiting to be shaped. Nothing is hidden. Over time, he learns how to protect himself from harm. She layers protective shields to defend heart and mind and soul. It is necessary if any of us is to survive in a rough and tumble world.  In time, we become very good at hiding who we are on the inside from the dangers of the outside. We become opaque with barriers between ourselves each other, between ourselves and the world, and sometimes between ourselves and whoever it is who is hiding deep within. I wonder, if part of the process of aging, at least from the perspective of the spirit, is that we go through a kind of reversal. We strip away layer after layer after hard-won layer—to once again be a naked spiritual being. Transparent. Whole. Revealed as we truly are. Consonant. Cohesive. The inner life and the outer life are in sync. We are luminous with old age.

            There is a sense where coming to the place in my life where I am becoming “more” is a relief. I can drop all my well-intentioned protections and simply be who God is calling me to be. I’ve been practicing. It isn’t always easy. But, Oh! My beloved! Just imagine—all of us together, luminous, kind, funny, forgiving, resilient, brave, compassionate—what a beautiful sight to behold.

            And don’t forget to pass the chocolate pudding.

Blessings! See you Sunday. Pastor Nancy

9/20/19: Weekly Note From the Preacher Woman

Beloved:

There is nothing quite like having long conversations with someone from Deer Ridge to challenge all my judgments and assumptions. It has been almost two years since I began working in the education department at the prison up the hill. With a simple change of clothes, some of the men there would never be taken for a person who has spent most of their adolescence and adult life incarcerated. There are others, whose past no change of wardrobe could disguise.

            I work one-on-one, each inmate’s need dictates what we will work on. Sometimes my job is to listen, at other times, instruct. But always, always, I am much more the learner than the teacher. The men I work with are all highly motivated. They are within months of being paroled. All of them have come through the education department with deficits of opportunity and hope. The staff, peer tutors and volunteers are dedicated folks. The work they do to create possibilities of a future on the outside is spectacular. And then we send them out.

             And often, beloved, the sad truth is, that we send them out to fail. Generally, a person is paroled to the community from which they were incarcerated. They may be given the opportunity to live in a group home facility, where they can begin the process of finding work, or going to school, or going to rehab. These transitional places are many rungs lower than ideal. They are often located in neighborhoods where the incidence of homelessness, drug availability and gang activity are rampant. Upon parole, a person is suddenly dropped into a world of needing to make the kinds of decisions most of us take for granted—when to get up or go to bed, what and when to eat, what to do with my time in between job interviews, what to do with a free evening, how to manage my money, how to make a friend who won’t get me into trouble, negotiating things like laundromats, tipping in a restaurant, casual conversation.

            How much help a parolee receives is dependent upon the resources of the particular community, the parole officer to whom he is assigned, and how the system relates to the history of the individual. I have noticed that someone who has been in and out of the system multiple times generally gets less help. The parolee is suddenly without community. Prison may not be the best kind of community, but at least you know the rules: show no weakness, don’t take any disrespect, don’t trust anyone but your own crew. The only community they have known on the outside, they need to avoid, or risk everything.

            The odds are so stacked against them. Because of my relationship with the institution, I am not allowed to continue contact with inmates after they leave Deer Ridge. That makes total sense. But it is hard. I wish I were there on the other end, to help them find safe places, to guide them in negotiating all the strangeness they are facing, to connect them with faith communities, and people who would be able to see their strengths and not just their mistakes.

            And, the more I get to know about the men with whom I am working, the more I realize how complex a problem we are facing. All of the hundreds of men up the hill will be leaving here to become our neighbors. And I want them to succeed: to have meaningful work, raise their children, have a full and interesting life. But the way our systems are set up, most of them will fail.

            When I learn the stories, hear the determination in their voices to live a different kind of life, I feel like our society has failed them. What would my life have been like, if I had walked where they have had to walk. My guess is, I would not have survived as well as they have given the same options: poverty, abuse, instability, inadequate housing, neglect, hopelessness.

This year I have been working to create a cadre of folks around the state who are willing to connect with some of the men Jan and I have worked with as they are paroled–just to be a contact and possibly a mentor. It is a tiny little thing. Totally voluntary on the part of the parolee. Just someone who is willing to see them just as they are—to grab a cup of coffee, to listen to their struggles, and maybe let them know that they are not alone. One of the things I have learned from working up the hill, is the power of personal connection and story. One person at a time. It doesn’t feel like enough. But, it is a beginning.

Blessings beloved, Pastor Nancy

9/12/19, Weekly Note From the Preacher Woman

Beloved:

My grandfather had a special mason jar filled he kept in the fridge. When he would come in from the fields after changing pipe or hauling hay, he would stand there right in front of the door and finish it off in one long satisfying go.

Every summer, my family spent a week or two at my grandparents’ farm. My siblings and I don’t agree on many things, but we all concur that time spent at Grandma and Grandpa’s was just the best. By modern standards, there wasn’t anything to “do.” We were expected to entertain ourselves and stay out of the adults’ way. The boys would often join dad and grandpa when he went irrigating. My sister and I most often played outdoors with the dishes and clothes that grandma had stored in a big old trunk in the old chicken coop.

Grandpa irrigated his lawn, so that the grass was like walking on a carpet. You could run in it barefoot without worry of getting a sticker in your foot from thistles or weeds. The big cottonwood tree in the back was the home of the tire swing—that could be anything from a spaceship to a bucking bronco—depending which of us was using it at the time.

There were feral cats that grandma fed table scraps to each day. We would watch her perched in the kitchen sink, because they wouldn’t come if we were outside. Every once in a while, we might catch a glimpse of a kitten in the haystack, but they were wild little things that had no difficulty escaping from our well-meaning attentions.

The only thing we didn’t like about our visits to the farm, was the water. Our grandparents were on a well. When you turned on the faucet, it smelled of minerals and whatever else might be lurking. To a bunch of city kids, this just wasn’t right. Grandma tried to make it more palatable by making pitchers of Kool-aid. They weren’t pre-sweetened back then, and the instructions suggested adding one cup of sugar. I don’t know how much sugar she used, but I always felt that if I suddenly bit down while I was drinking, my teeth would go “crunch.” It helped. And, at least, it was better than the water from the tap.

Except. The mason jar in the refrigerator. I know for a fact that my sister and brothers and I never talked about the mason jar. But there was just something alluring about seeing grandpa guzzle down that cool water that made it seem like it must have come from a special spring—reserved only for him. We had seen him fill it, so we knew it was from the tap. But, there was just something about seeing that jar on its shelf every time we looked in the fridge.

One summer day, I was by myself in the kitchen. I was thirsty, so I opened the fridge. And there it was: Grandpa’s jar. Cool. Clear. Tempting. I’m sure grandpa wouldn’t mind if I had just a little sip. So, very carefully, I took a little sip, or two. It was good. Really good. No one noticed.

The next day, I did the same. Not much, just a little. I’m sure no one would mind. Grandma always kept a store of Juicy Fruit gum in the cupboard for when we came to visit. We never had to ask to have some. We knew it was okay. This must be like that. At least that is what I tried to tell myself.

A day or so later, my sister and I were playing in the back yard and we suddenly heard grandpa’s voice. It was loud. He called us all into the kitchen. I don’t know about everyone else, but my heart was beating really fast. It beat even faster when we got into the kitchen and discovered what grandpa was upset about. He was standing at the door of the refrigerator (letting all the cool air out, as grandma would always complain). He was holding his mason jar. It had about a half inch of water in the bottom. Not nearly enough to quench a raging thirst.

The four of us stood quietly in front of him. “Who drank all my water?” We all looked at the floor. I knew with absolute certainty that Ihad not drank that whole jar of water. I only took a sip or two. Then it suddenly came to me, I wasn’t the only one! Not one of us confessed, because we were all thinking exactly the same thing, “I didn’t drink all your water.”

Grandpa didn’t stay mad long. He requested, in his gruff serious voice, that if we took a sip, we needed to refill the jar. Obviously, that had not occurred to any of us. We had, after all, just taken a sip or two.

Perception is an interesting thing. The well water was undrinkable in my mind. There was no way I would ever willingly drink anything that came out of that smelly faucet. And yet, the picture of my grandfather thoroughly enjoying draining that jar made four children decide that something magical must have happened to make that same water the best thing any of us had ever tasted.

There are lots of things that I might learn from that story: always refill the jar, for one. But I think the thing that captures me about this memory, is that the water became sweet, not because of a container, or a temperature, but because of my grandfather. He declared it wonderful. And so, it was.

God declares a lot more things to be wonderful than I do: people, situations, invitations. Oh, I usually get there with enough prodding. But I wonder what my life would be like if I simply watched God, like my siblings and I watched our grandfather, for the cues that would teach me about blessings, wonder and grace. My guess is that something magical might happen.

Blessing, Pastor Nancy

9/6/19, Weekly Note From The Preacher Woman

Beloved:

One day I was walking home for lunch when I noticed a woman and a young girl walking on the sidewalk opposite me. The adult monologue sounded familiar: “Come on! Hurry up!” I smiled: the way of a harried mom and her child—or at least it seems that way to me. We are in a hurry, and they are blissfully unaware of our sense of urgency. I could hear the clip clapping of the little girl’s flip flops as they snapped against her bare feet. The inevitable happened, and I heard a sudden wail. “My shoe! My shoe!” In trying to hurry, she had lost one of her shoes. Her mom went back to help her look. I offered to help. “No, we’ll find it. Oh, here it is!” They went on their way. And I continued my journey home.

As I made my tuna sandwich (to the extremely concentrated stares of two small dogs), I mused a bit on the drama of hurrying parents and dawdling children. I wish I could say that I had never said those words to my sons when they were little…but I know for certain I did. Why, I wonder, was I always in such a hurry? I remember strapping one of my sons into his car seat one afternoon. As I got into the driver’s seat, he startled me by declaring, “I never want to grow up.” I immediately asked why. And being a thought little person, he replied, “’Cause, all you ever do is work-work-work: errands-errands-errands.” Yikes. That was a hard truth to hear coming from a four year old!

On another more recent day, I was walking in the park to get some steps on my pedometer (a health and wellness goal),  and noticed a mom and two young children walking in front of me on the path. They were not hurrying. (I’m pretty certain they were not wearing pedometers!) The little boy was scurrying from one side of the path to the other, like a puppy, pointing out this and that. His wise mother let him lead the way and take his time. I have to confess that I hadn’t brought my “puppies” to the park with me for my walk, because they tend to do the same thing. (There are so many exciting things to smell and see, after all.) After a bit, the mom reached down to pick up the little girl and carry her piggyback. By the time I caught up with them, they were just stopping to rest in the shade. I complemented the woman on what good walkers her children were. “They love to walk,” she replied. The little boy came up from behind his mother to let me know that there “are fire ants right over there!”

Children are such good teachers, if I will only take the time to pay attention. They know the secret of meandering, of discovering moments that I miss if I allow myself to be distracted by my busy brain, and the endless list of tasks and worries. Dogs are too.

Being away for the last three weeks has allowed me to slow down. I have had time to listen, to pray deeply, to write, to read. And notice stuff.

I sat in a beautiful garden every day. I felt the sun on my face and waited for the hummingbirds to flit among the flowers. Did you know that Anna hummingbirds make a delightful creaking sound? It reminds me of an old screen door being opened and closed. I breathed in the scent of dozens of different blooms, trying to identify each one that merged into a perfume that nothing in the world could replicate. And then I took some yoga classes and learned how to really breathe. (It’s harder than it looks.) I watched a stranded helium balloon in a tall tree in the neighborhood, feeling sad that it ruined the profile of the great tall oak–until the slanting sun turned it into a molten golden orb against the darkening sky. I rediscovered the delight in small moments. I savored. I stopped hurrying.

Now that I am home, the temptation is to go back to everything I left behind—the busyness, the eternal demands of the calendar and the never-ending lists. My head is filled with all the to-dos of fall. I look forward to what lies ahead. But I hope that I can hold onto the lessons learned from children, and from taking time away. May it be so for all of us.

Blessings and peace, Pastor Nancy

Weekly Note From the Preacher Woman, 6/13/19

Beloved:

I am writing this week from Eugene, where I am attending the Oregon-Idaho annual conference. Methodists have held annual conferences since the time of the Wesley brothers. In our tradition, ordained elders and deacons hold their membership, not in a local congregation, but in a conference. For many clergy, these yearly meetings become something like a family reunion: seeing folks you may not have seen all year long, catching up on the news—personal and professional—and getting recharged for the coming year.

This year is a particularly interesting moment among our numbers. We are trying to sort out what is going on with the larger denomination, and how the Oregon-Idaho, Greater Northwest, and Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist church will respond to the events of the 2019 Specially called General Conference. We will be elected representatives—clergy and lay—who will attend the 2020 General Conference and the Western Jurisdictional Conference.

While I’m here, I am also doing a bit of research on how some of our colleagues in ministry in the Eugene area are working with issues of homelessness in their community. They have worked creatively and diligently on creating partnerships with organizations and our homeless neighbors on finding solutions. So, I am excited to have a chance to see what they are doing and ask lots of questions.

Amanda, Emily, Justin and Jill Plant are all helping out as pages and volunteers to keep things running smoothly. At last night’s worship, the younger Plants assisted in a remembrance of baptism ritual at the end of the service. We were invited to “touch the water” and remember our belovedness. It was a gift to receive that blessing from Emily as I walked toward the front of the church.

I will also be meeting with two clergy who have invited me to share leadership in the Transformation Prayer retreat that will be held at Suttle Lake in September. The registration information is available in the office if you are interested. It will be held immediately prior to our All-Church retreat.

Elders in the Methodist system are expected to do work for the larger church. It is part of our job description from the very beginning or our training and ordination. For many years, I worked primarily with committees, primarily the Board of Ordained Ministry. I also served on Sessions Planning, Leading conference worship, Board of Trustees, Clergy Meetings, was the Chair of the Elders, you name it—if it was a meeting, I probably was part of it.

Being a newbie to this conference, I have managed to stay under the radar in terms of serving on committees (shh! Don’t tell anyone!) So, in this season, I have been able to self-select some of the ways I am serving the conference. This summer, I am going to chaplain at two summer camps—one at Adventure Camp at Suttle Lake, and the other at Magruder. After so many years of long travel days to sit in meetings for hours, I have to say, I am looking forward to time spent out of doors in our beautiful state.

It would be difficult to do these things without our terrific team of folks at Madras UMC—Chris, who always keeps things going, Mike for stepping in to preach as needed, the music team, all the volunteers who do so many things to keep us going. So—in preparation for a few more adventures outside the building—thanks, Team!

Be sure and stay tuned for a variety of our special activities this summer. We have Wednesday Worship starting June 19th, at 7:00 p.m. Ukuleles, reflections, stories, and treats. I can’t wait! The Ukes will then plan on helping to lead worship on our Suttle Lake Picnic Adventure. (Be sure to let Chris know you are coming!)

Jill will be leading a summer choir—we will rehearse June 25th and July 2nd , and then sing July 4th at Sahalee Park after the parade. We will be singing other times during the summer as well, so stay tuned.

Summer Worship is going to have a “Around the Campfire” theme beginning next week. We will be drawing from our camping canon for our music, and interviewing some of our folks about their journeys. It is a great time to dress casually, connect with the beloved, and grow a bit deeper in our faith and life together.

Barb, Chris and I know you will all be out there adventuring as well this summer. We would love to hear about your trips and explorations. We would love to see your pictures. Last summer we challenged ourselves to seeing if we could keep the “campfires” burning without the big “dip” that so often happens when so many of us are vacationing. You all met the challenge! We hope that you will step up again this year, make our treasurer happy, but also remember that what we do here is absolutely amazing! At conference this year, Madras UMC has been named as one of the “Abundant Health” congregations in Oregon-Idaho (they gave us ribbons and everything!) So, again, we invite you to keep up God’s work.

This has rambled on, sorry about that, but I am so proud of our congregation and the commitment we have together to be welcoming, vibrant and outwardly focused! I can’t help but share the story whenever I can.

Have a good week! And don’t miss Mike’s sermon on Sunday, called “God’s Delight!”

Blessings, Dear Ones,

Pastor Nancy

4/10/19, Weekly Note From the Preacher Woman

Beloved:

I was a pastor’s wife for many years. Back then, there were certain expectations for pastor’s wives. Number one: you always stood by your man after church. Number two: you taught Sunday School. Number three: you sang in the choir, or, even better, played the piano and directed the choir. Number four: entertained people in your home. A lot. Number five: always looked put together. Number six: provided a free work force for your husband and the congregation. Number seven: keep the home fires burning, so your husband could concentrate on the important work of the church. There were some things that I managed to do fairly well in this role. However, for the most part, I don’t think I lived up to the congregations’ expectations for the most part.

Times have changed—for the most part. Most women work outside the home. And not all pastor’s wives are women. In seminary, when the schedule of life and church work all got to be a bit much, my women colleagues and I would commiserate that what we really needed was a pastor’s wife. Someone who could handle the worries of life while we could just concentrate on the needs of the congregation and the mission of the church.

I am thankful that pastor’s spouses are not expected to do and be all the things that were assumed “back in the day.” There was a lot of guilt, lack of privacy, overblown personal costs in that role. I can remember one day in particular: I had the car loaded and the kids buckled in ready to drive off on vacation, and the phone rang. Yeesh! To answer, or not to answer? I answered. It was a parishioner in crisis, needing my husband. Resentment welled up in my heart, as I selfishly prayed that it wouldn’t derail our trip. I quickly squashed such unworthy feelings, but still. Other times, I can recall getting phone calls from the funeral home wanting to talk to my husband, and if I didn’t know, I would get chewed out for not knowing. It could be a very strange life sometimes.

Memories and failures aside. Can I just say, that I think my husband, Michael, is so much better at being a pastor’s wife than I ever was?

Stick with me here. He isn’t the model of elegance or throw tea parties, he doesn’t play the piano, he doesn’t teach Sunday School, and he doesn’t do the meal planning. First, he is his own person. I tried to be, back then. And sometimes I managed it. Eventually, I created my own space, at the risk of a lot of pushback. But my husband, is his own person. I love that. What he does as my partner, as a part of the congregation, and an extension of whatever ministry happens here, is his own choice. He does not feel obligated to fulfill a certain role or societal expectation. Second, he is my rock. He holds me emotionally, and prayerfully in a way that makes it possible for me to keep going on those rocky days when the world seems to be spinning out of control. I can count on him. I trust him. And he knows when everything has just become too much. (And he likes my sermons…extra credit points) Third, he does indeed keep the home fires burning. Not the way I thought I had two back when I was a pastor’s wife. But I know I can count on clean underwear in the drawer and an emergency grocery run as needed. He has been known to have an uncanny knack for when I might need a glass of wine waiting by my chair when I get home after an exhausting day. AND, he prepares my coffee the night before, so when I get up before him, my coffee is only a button push away. Fourth, how many pastor’s wives will fill in for their spouses on a Sunday morning when they wake up with pneumonia? Just saying.

Marriage is hard. Ministry is hard. None of us is perfect. But today, as I awake to a new day, I just had to take a few minutes to celebrate this man to whom I am in partnership to say, that he is a much better pastor’s wife, er, husband, that I ever was. Thanks Michael!

Blessings!

Pastor Nancy