For The Someday Book

Posts Tagged ‘2030 clergy

Any Day a Beautiful Change: A Story of Faith and Family by Katherine Willis Pershey. Chalice Press, 2012, 118 pp.

any dayI don’t know Katherine Willis Pershey in real life, but we are both active in the UCC 2030 Clergy Network. We are friends on Facebook and interact that way, and  we corresponded last year when St. Luke’s used a children’s Christmas pageant she authored. I felt like I knew her already before I began reading her book. By the end of the introduction, I felt like she knew me too. By the end of the book, I felt like we were BFFs.

Pershey’s book tells the story of her life and mine, which are shaped by the intersection of motherhood, marriage and ministry. The one of those identities that takes priority depends on the day. The topics she covers are the same ones I talk about with my closest friends over lunch, and Pershey’s personal sharing is equally intimate. The difference is that she writes her story–which I want to claim as our story, though the particulars are her own–with such depth, insight and beauty.

Each chapter is an essay that can stand on its own. One is about getting married, others are about getting pregnant, nursing, family conflict and the stress between work and family life. Each one has its own beauty and its own theological insights, and the craft of her prose is just tight. For example, she talks about being pregnant and preaching during the season of Advent, when the whole church anticipates the birth of Mary’s child and her own.

Incarnation. God becomes flesh. God becomes a baby. The very fundamentals of my religious tradition, the stuff I’d grown up with and studied and (for heaven’s sake!) preached was suddenly extraordinarily real to me. The longing I had for my theoretical fetus to be transformed into a tangible baby was the same as my desire for my theoretical divinity to become the incarnate Christ. (16)

In a later chapter, she reflects on nursing and communion:

Long after I first wrestled with those doctrines in classrooms and chapels, I’ve finally learned that there’s no way for bread to be broken and wine to be spilled without somebody’s body and blood taking a hit. It isn’t that the pain is redemptive. The pain is redeemed.  Take and eat, my daughter. This deluge of milk is called forth by you, and given for you. (29)

Together, the chapters create an intimate picture of a life lived at this intersection of ministry, marriage and motherhood, which is simultaneously broken, beautiful, agonizing, breathtaking, and redeemed. I almost hesitate to recommend it to members of my church or family, lest they come to know my life too intimately. This book is vulnerable and brave.

Many friends have been raving about how good her book is. They were right, and now it’s my turn to say the same thing. If you are a young clergy woman, especially if you are a mother, why have you not read this book yet? You must. Order it today. Read it–to support a colleague who is telling so much truth and doing such good theology about our lives and our ministries.

If you are know or love someone living at the intersection of ministry, motherhood and marriage–this is a good book to read to learn about their lives. Most importantly, though, this is just good theology, beautifully written, and anyone who reads it will be blessed to encounter the Holy in the author’s life and likely in their own, whether you yourself are minister, mother, married, or none of the above.

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It’s been a month since I’ve done any significant writing. It’s not because I haven’t had anything to say–I have a “drafts” folder full of ideas and starters for blog posts. It’s not even because I’ve been working too hard. Although it’s been a full time at church, that has not stopped me from taking time to write in the past. It’s because I’ve been on vacation. The wrong kind of vacation has left me bereft of energy for writing.

I spent a week at a very full conference with other young clergy in the UCC 2030 Clergy Network, then a week back home, then nearly two weeks in my hometown surrounded by family. All of these were good trips, filled with engaging conversations and plenty of material for reflection and good times with extended family. But I returned from this time of vacation feeling incredibly scatterbrained, stressed, depleted and overwhelmed, and I think I have finally figured out why: I am an extreme introvert who has taken extroverted vacations.

None of these trips have been stressful—there was no family drama, no major travel nightmares (although one came close), no frantic need for sight-seeing. Neither has the workload upon my return been overwhelming—just the normal catch-up work on visitations and preparing worship for vacation weeks. The stress, I realized, is coming from within, or, rather, from the inability to spend time within.

Because all these travels have involved a short amount of time and a long list of people to see, the days were packed with one visit after another. Many of them were intense, filled with passionate conversations and deep-hearted sharing among old friends. As an introvert, these conversations themselves—while often enjoyable and exciting—are also draining. For me to make sense of them, I need time apart to process things, think them over and be alone with my thoughts. During vacation, I just piled one conversation on top of another, until they all became a big blur.

Over the last 10 days since I got home, I have had plenty of time in the evenings to sit and write, but my mind has been too jumbled. All I could manage to do was watch television, clean house and go to bed early. It has taken me a week to recover my inner voice and mental space for writing, beyond the normal writing of sermons and prayers and newsletter articles.

My writing is not the only thing to suffer, however. My patient and pleasant personality is probably the far greater victim. I have noticed for years that I get testy and irritable when I go to visit family on vacation. I try to be nice, but I find myself snippy and snarky despite my best efforts.  I think it all goes back to trying to be something I’m not: an extrovert. When I don’t take time to process, think, be silent and alone, I become a very unpleasant person.

I don’t know how to do it, but in the future I need to be more self-conscious about the impact these extroverted vacations have on me as a person and as a writer.

Now that this first piece of processing is written, let’s hope I can get back into gear and spend some time on that backlog of ideas in my drafts folder.

I promise I am not making this up.

At the clergy retreat last week, we had to play those typical get-to-know-you games. My colleague who was leading the games did a nice job of handling the overwrought goofiness of it all, but I had to laugh when he started to introduce us to “I Never.” I thought everyone knew “I Never” as a drinking game.  Apparently not. He thought it was a youth group game, like Fruit Basket, where you change chairs based on shared attributes.

Anyway, stifling my laughter, I volunteered to go first, and chose to make a soap-box statement about being the youngest one in the room: “I have never written a sermon without using the internet!” It was a great game play, because almost everyone in the room would have had to take a drink, or change chairs if we had been playing the youth group version.

However, later on in the retreat, I walked by a group of older colleagues talking with one another. I overheard this whispered comment:

“That’s the one who said she gets all her sermons off the internet.”

“I know. I can’t believe she admitted that!”

“Is that even legal?”

I was just about to turn around in shock and horror to defend my honor. Using the internet for sermon preparation does not make you a plagiarist and an intellectual thief! Thankfully, one member of the little group had just a whit of clue about life in the 21st century and explained that I probably just used the internet for my research, just like they use their books. “Oh,” came the reply, “really? You think that’s what she meant? When I hear clergy talk about using stuff from the internet I just figure they are talking about taking whole sermons from other people.”

At this point, I want to turn on my heels and say, “What kind of stone-age idiot are you? I take advantage of the massive resources on the web, so you assume I must be a plagiarist preacher too lazy to do my own work?” I thought better of it and decided to just keep walking. The one clued-in colleague gave a remedial course in the power of the internets, but I swear they gave me disapproving looks for the rest of the retreat. Sometimes you just have to let it go.

I remain haunted by the level of ignorance about the digital age that their comments displayed. Not encouraging for the future of the church, and our ability to connect to the next generation.


About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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