Saturday, December 25, 2010

I am the Grinch

I'm starting to think that the Grinch may have been deeply misunderstood.  I mean, how did the Grinch become the Grinch?  Maybe he realized that he had been slowly but surely disconnected from his family to the point where, when he called to wish them a merry Christmas, they just had better things to do.  Maybe he watched everyone around him getting showered with Christmas gifts and wondered how he got to a point where no one in his life cared that much about him.  Maybe his roommate picked Christmas to become really difficult for the first time ever.  Maybe he spent too much time sitting around with Max and feeling sorry for himself.  I can kind of see how all of that might make one's heart two sizes too small.

There is just too much pressure on this holiday.  I'm not sure why I'm making it the measuring stick for my relationships, and hopefully I'll be over that tomorrow.  I'm not sure why what I have received for Christmas is somehow not enough.  I'm not sure why I'm all "Me, me, me" right now.  It's annoying.  I don't really hate Christmas, and I don't really think there is no one who loves me.  I just could use a few Whos today to remind me that I am not alone.  Thanks, by the way, to the Whos who have dropped by with a note here, or who sent a lovely card.  Even though I'm a total stick in the mud right now, it really has helped.    

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Empty Space

This morning I ran out of coffee.  Given the depths of my addiction, this was probably enough of a crisis on its own.  But this is not just any coffee.  It's my Caribou French Roast Coffee, my very favorite, which my family sends me for every holiday.  Usually.  I realize that I could order this coffee for myself online, but between my birthday and Christmas, it always seems to arrive at just the time that I need it.  Usually.

But I realized something this morning as I shook the last of the beans into the coffee grinder: there is no coffee coming this year.  I suppose I did this to myself, with my late and lax gift-giving, with my waiting until after Christmas to send presents back to Minnesota for my family.  Once again, this year, my gifts will be shipped on the Monday after Christmas.  But then, the rest of my family has other piles of presents waiting for them, from each other.  I only get the one, from my parents.  Usually.  It's Christmas Eve.  If there were a package coming this year for me, it would be here already.

The space under my tree is empty except for a few things waiting to be wrapped and shipped after I get through the Christmas church mania.  And I know Christmas is not all about presents.  Believe me, I know, it's not really about presents at all.  One package isn't that big of a deal.  But that one package told me that somewhere, someone was aware that I'm alone during the holiday.  Someone was aware of me, of my existence, of the fact that I might need to know that even though I'm on my own for the holiday, I'm not entirely alone in the world.

It's so much pressure to put on one little holiday, but there it is.  If no one is around to tell you that they care about you during this time of year, chances are, no one actually cares about you all that much.  And maybe I did that to myself too, by moving across the country, by always being so quick to say good-bye, by not keeping up relationships as well as I should have and not being as intentional about caring for people as I could have.  But that empty space under the tree still hurts.

So, now I'm going to pull myself together and go to church and do the job that took me so far from my family (although chances are I would have moved anyway) and from the once-upon-a-time when I didn't have to worry about these things, when I was just one more part of the big, long-established family hustle and bustle of Christmas.  I will pull through three services and try to think of angels and shepherds and baby Jesus in a manger.  I will try not to think of myself and the gaping wound ripped open by this stupid holiday.  I will try to think of light and hope and the coming of God into the world.  And I will pray that is enough to get me through the night.  

Monday, December 20, 2010

Living with Tradition

This morning, on this day which is usually my day off, I woke up at 7am to go to a personnel committee meeting.  This, after one of the longest and most taxing days in my church year - Living Nativity day.  Let me tell you, I am a happy camper today.  However, I am having quite the productive morning, sorting out all the things that need to get done before Christmas Eve.  Above all, though, I am just glad the Living Nativity is over.

This is a church with a lot of tradition, which is what tends to happen when you've been around for 330 years.  People really get into the traditions around here.  I have been here almost three years, and I think I lost track of how many times people have said, "We've always done it this way" about two years and eleven months ago.  I, on the other hand, have an intellectual appreciation for the concept of tradition, but in point of fact, just don't really "get" most traditions.  I'm more of the "Woohoo, change is fun!  Why do something the same when you can do it differently?" school of thought.

As you might imagine, this causes some issues.  Like when I think that the Living Nativity would be so much cooler if you put in some contemporary versions of carols and the voice of someone who is still living.  What is going on in my brain is, "This would be fun and interesting."  What happens in the minds of many of the members of my church is, "That is the recording I have heard every year for my entire life, my mother is singing in the choir, that's my old pastor's voice, it's barely Christmas without it, and if you change it, I will never trust you again."  It's taken me a long time in ministry to realize this - that it's really about people trusting that I care about their values, and thus about them; that while my version may be cooler, theirs is rooted in the community where they've been nurtured.

Sometimes I'm kind of slow at these things.

Anyway, I no longer hate the Living Nativity, but I am still glad it's over for another year.  It is a LOT of work.  And speaking of a lot of work, there is this holiday coming up at the end of the week for which I must prepare.  No rest for the weary.      

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Odds and Ends

Today is an odds and ends kind of day.  Keeping track of life is proving kind of difficult this time of year, so the to-do list on my iPhone just keeps growing and growing, even as I keep checking off items.  It's a little ridiculous.  But somehow I have to remember to do things like book a train ticket to Toronto to check out the mission trip site, finish mixing the Living Nativity soundtrack, find wise men for Christmas Eve, and make an appointment to have a haircut before New Year's sneaks up on me.  Oh right, and Christmas shopping.  I haven't done any of that yet.  I tried to do some last night, but just ended up buying a bunch of stuff for myself.  Malls are dangerous places.

I'm feeling a little frantic about all the details that need to be remembered in the next week, and I'm honestly really not sure if everything is going to get done.  That being the case, I now realize that I should stop blogging and do more work.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Clergy Faith

One of my friends posted this article on Facebook this week:  It is essentially a study of five anonymous Protestant ministers who define themselves as (in some sense) non-believing.  Of course, their congregations don't know that.  "Coming out" as agnostic or atheist when you are a minister would be tricky, to say the least.  Our vocation - and practically speaking, our ability to earn a living - rests on our ability to maintain faith.

Given that we all supposedly go into this field based on a sense of calling, you may not think that would be a difficult thing.  But then you go to seminary, and they intentionally rip up all the things people assume to be true about the Bible and God, and most ministers come out of seminary with a much different picture of faith than they did when they entered.  Then you get into the church, and you can't preach all of those things you learned in seminary, because your parishioners are going to think you're a godless heathen if you start spouting things about different authors and two versions of the creation in a sermon.  And maybe you try to teach a class so you can talk about these things in an environment where there is the time and space to take people along gently, but chances are, two people show up and they're the ones who already wonder about all of this literalism business.  So there ends up being this gap between what ministers actually believe, and the way they communicate with the people in the pews.

On a side note, I actually work in a church where it's totally okay for me to assume that the Bible didn't fall from the mouth of God and question the things in it.  If I didn't, that's probably when I'd be fired.  But that isn't the case for most of my clergy brethren and sistren.  And then we all have to deal with this side of the church that is not at all about sacredness or reflection or community or any of the things people seek in churches.  We spend a lot of time dealing with budgets and newsletters and angry people who shout at us (or more likely slander us behind our backs) about very petty things.  It doesn't really encourage a high level of piety or reverence about church things.

I don't have this problem with struggling over non-belief.  I believe...although exactly what I believe varies somewhat depending on the day, and I do struggle with maintaining integrity in a job where the expectation is that I will tow a theological line.  I wonder what I will do if, at some point, I am subjected to a doctrinal litmus test.  I suspect many people would say that I am not reverent enough, that I don't have enough respect for church traditions, that I am a bit of an iconoclast.  I know lots of ministers who feel the same way I do but don't act on it.  I suspect that feeling irreverent about the church is a professional hazard, like funeral directors who joke about death.  Which they do, by the way.  If you've never hung out with funeral directors, you should; they're usually hilarious - but only if you can handle a complete lack of respect for all things sacred.                

Friday, December 10, 2010


Tonight I am leading a group from church that will travel to NYC to deliver food, clothing, blankets, and toiletries to homeless people.  We leave in the late evening, get there about 10:30pm, and return to the church around 3-4am.  I'm a night owl and insomniac, so this schedule works for me, although it's challenging for some of the people who are going.  Every time we do this sort of thing, I am reminded that not everyone has experience working with - or even just being around - people with low or no income.  I forget, because I've been doing this kind of thing for a long time.  The assumptions that come out in conversations about this event are sometimes interesting, to say the least.  I'm constantly trying to find ways to gently educate people (although gentle isn't really my strong point).  Some examples of things that have been said to me in the last couple of weeks:

1) "It's not like they'll be able to read."
It is true that we can't assume that the people we encounter will be able to read printed materials in English.  Sometimes they are illiterate, or have learning disabilities, or don't speak English.  On the other hand, sometimes they have more education than I do.  I've met homeless and impoverished people with Ph.D's.  Given the job market for university faculty right now, this probably shouldn't be all that unexpected.

2) "You'd think they would eat anything if they're really hungry."
I suppose it's true that someone who is starving would eat things they might not normally eat.  But we serve people who have religious convictions about food, and hence we don't have ham sandwiches.  Also, homeless people still have things they like and don't like, just like the rest of us.  If I were hungry, I'd probably eat a sandwich with mayonnaise on it, but I would have to be pretty darned hungry not to be grossed out by it.  It's quite easy for us to give food that tastes good, is nutritious, and that people will be able to eat without compromising their religious beliefs, so we try to do that.

3) "Aren't they just glad to get whatever we give them?"
Well, sometimes, if whatever we give them is useful.  It's also helpful if what we give enables people to maintain some sense of dignity.  So, we don't give huge, non-portable items to people who have to carry their entire lives with them, and we don't give them used underwear or stained/torn clothing.  We have plenty of good-quality, usable items to give.  

4) "Is this really safe?"
Yes.  This particular project has a spotless safety record, and they've been running it for several years.  We are working in a fairly large group, in very public locations.  In 14 years of leading groups on mission projects, some in situations that would have been considered much more dangerous that this one, I have encountered one person who was actually violent, and it was diffused quickly.  Sometimes we meet people who are surly or verbally hostile, but it's no big deal.  The same thing happens in church.  The same strategy applies: remain calm, don't escalate the anger, get help if you need it, move on.    

5) "Why do we do this so late at night?"
Well, you're probably not going to find people bedding down on the streets outside of the Dolce and Gabbana store in the middle of the afternoon.  We go when people are there.

I'm looking forward to tonight, despite all the questions, and perhaps because of them.  As much as I sometimes think, "Huh????" about the things people say, it's fun getting them outside of their comfort zones and exposing them to another way of life.  It's fun watching them change as they meet real people in difficult circumstances.  And it's really fun watching what they bring back to their own lives and to our congregation.        

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Advent Procrastination

It's Advent, that wondrous time of year in which I receive the marvelous gift of a miraculously multiplying to-do list.  I keep checking off items, and more tasks appear.  It's annoying.  The only reason I'm writing here is because I added blogging to my daily repeating task list.  Don't worry; although I'll get it done today, it will magically reappear tomorrow.

My list tells me that so far today, in addition to a couple of meetings, I wrote bulletin announcements, chose hymns and readings for two Christmas Eve services, found readers for half of said readings, and wrote the prayers of the people for this Sunday.  Not too shabby.  Which is not to say that I'm done.

I also booked a hotel room for New Year's Eve.  I'm going to PA to see Scythian for their Mad, Mad Masquerade Ball.  I'm pretty excited, although I realized after booking all of this that I'm probably going alone, which could be less than optimal.  Most of the concert-going people I know will be in Northampton, MA seeing Enter the Haggis.  Been there, done that last year.  It was fun, but certain situations have changed since then, and I'm not really up for the drama of the Haggishead crowd.  I guess it would probably be depressing to spend New Year's alone, except that it's Scythian.  Alone doesn't really happen at their shows, for me.  And who knows, maybe I can drag someone along.  Now to find a fabulous roaring 20s outfit for the occasion...

Well, now it's clear that I am just rambling on to avoid doing the work that I actually need to get done, so I'm going to stop procrastinating and get on with it.  Happy Advent.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


I grew up in a family that yelled.  Some of us yelled more or less than others, but there was yelling.  Some of us were more or less explosive in our anger, but there was anger.  My father was the most frequently angry member of the family, and probably the one whose anger affected the rest of us most, but for all of us, anger was allowed, and even expected.  It wasn't always the most pleasant home environment, but to my knowledge, none of us ever thought that anger was a bad thing, or - more importantly - that any member of our family loved us any less just because they yelled or were angry at us.

All of this gave me a fairly casual attitude toward anger.  I expect people to be angry at me.  I expect to be angry at other people.  I am well acquainted with my own anger, with the fact that it tends to flare suddenly and die just as quickly and completely.  If I stay angry for longer than five minutes, it's usually because I've squelched it rather than letting it out in the moment.

Which brings us to today.  Ministers are not so much encouraged to let out the anger, and I have realized that I kind of scare people when I'm flaring up.  I don't really want to scare my church members.  It seems that most of them did not grow up in families where yelling - or any expression of anger - was okay.  The anger in their families often either came from one member of the family, while the others cowered in fear, or was repressed entirely.  Anger, for me, is about an honest expression of pain.  For them, it's about someone not liking or loving you.  If I get angry at them, they think I dislike them, where I'm generally just thinking, "I was angry, now I've said it, and now I'm moving on."

So, what I'm doing today, in between meetings and phone calls and band practice later this evening, is pondering the middle ground in which I can be honest and express myself with integrity, and model good communication, and encourage people to address their problems directly rather than running around yapping behind people's backs and being destructive, without terrifying people and making them think that I'm just mean.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Monday, Monday

It's my day off, and I've reconsidered my desire to either leave ministry or become a rampant people-pleaser.  I think I'll just stay me, and make nice to the best of my ability without capitulating to the crazy, and move on.

Today I am editing the novel.  I've spent roughly a week away from it, and it's interesting coming back to it from the beginning.  A few things I have noticed:
1) My characters often sound too much like me.  Some of them have more distinct voices of their own, but most of them still construct sentences like slightly altered versions of me.  I need to do some thinking about how the characters should express themselves, to distinguish them from each other and from me.
2) There is emotional depth in the painful ends of relationships, but not so much in the actual relationships.  The pain isn't as believable as it could be because the relationships don't seem to have enough emotion invested in them to cause that much pain.  So, I'm filling out some of the relational stuff.
3) Writing that quickly leads to odd inconsistencies in plot and character details.  As in, "Wait, wasn't that guy's name Paul the last time he showed up?  Why is he now Peter?"  Why are there now three bridesmaids in a wedding that was supposed to have eight?  Where did Anna's sister go?  You get the idea.
4) I hate the ending.  Okay, I don't HATE it, but I'm not happy with it.  It happens too quickly and easily, mostly because I was trying to get to 50,000 words while I wrote it.  I'm also not sure whether this character should end up in a relationship or still single.  I kind of want her to still be single, because it just seems more realistic, but this is not my life, it's a novel.  And as much as I'd like it to be convincing that she can be happy and fulfilled and single, it's kind of depressing for her to go through everything that she does and still end up alone.  So, yeah, the ending is not at all final at this point.

I have given the draft out to a few people to read and make comments.  Editing by committee isn't necessarily a good idea, but they are a pretty broad range of readers, and I think it will be helpful to see what they have to say.  I'll try to get another excerpt up soon.      

Sunday, December 5, 2010

In Which I Contemplate an Alternate Vocation

This doesn't happen to me very often, but occasionally there is a Sunday (or some other day, but usually a Sunday) that makes me question whether I should really stay in this crazy business called ministry.  Today is proving to be such a day.  Church is a weird thing/place/group of people.  All of these people get really emotionally invested in it, and that's good - investment and engagement is what we want.  We want people to feel ownership in the church.  But then they seem to feel sole ownership, i.e., my opinion is the only one that matters, and it's appropriate for me to express that whenever and however I want.  Thus we have people disrupting Communion to make a minor rearrangement that, yes, makes the process somewhat smoother, but only after making it much more awkward.  And we have people who seem intent on sabotaging any attempt I might make to have a positive ministry (or life) here. 

I like the working with youth, and the getting out into the community, and the helping the church engage the world and make a difference.  I enjoy all of that stuff.  The pettiness, back-stabbing, sniping, imposing your opinion on the entire church, etc., I'd prefer to pass.  Unfortunately, it seems like a whole lot of my time and energy are spent dealing with the latter.  It's frustrating to know that now I'm supposed to make nice with people who are rampantly slandering me so that I can placate them enough so that they'll be slightly less destructive for a month or two until I irritate them again.

Which I will, because a) I am imperfect and sometimes irritating, and b) they are intent on being irritated.  It doesn't make for a good combination.

On a related note, I think there are a lot of ministers who spend a lot of time trying to make sure people like them.  Perhaps I should be more like this; it certainly seems to make their time in church less rocky.  Then again, it sets a bad precedent and them church members expect all ministers to have a deep need to please them and be liked by them, so they make demands they might not make otherwise.  Here is where I am probably a bad minister: I don't have a natural need to be liked by everyone.  I've never been liked by everyone, and I tend not to feel bad about that.  The fact is, I don't like everyone either, so I don't take it personally.  So, we don't click.  So what?  But the fact that I don't like someone, or someone doesn't like me and I know it, doesn't make me want to destroy their life.  It just makes me more or less avoid them.  So, it's kind of a mystery to me when people's reaction to not liking me is to try to sabotage my life.  And it doesn't make me want to hang out with them.  That's all.   

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Dilemma of the Day

What does one wear when one has to go from serving a community meal at a mission with the youth group to officiating a wedding, with just enough time to drive between the two?

These are serious matters, people.

What will probably happen is that I will wear casual clothes for the meal, throw the robe on over them to do the wedding, and then change into a dress for the reception when I have a bit more flexible time.  I just have to find casual clothes that won't involve things like jeans legs emerging from the bottom of the robe and such.  I love my schedule, and the costume changes that go with it.

Friday, December 3, 2010

NaNo Excerpt 1

I thought it might be kind of fun to post a few excerpts from the NaNo here, since I have some people who have been asking to read it and it's not really ready for being read in full yet.  So, here's the beginning.  Constructive criticism is welcome, as it is a draft and a work in progress.  

At ten o’clock in the morning on the day when my heart would later be stomped into a million irreparable pieces, I sat in my office facing one of those couples seated on my couch.  You know the ones I mean: the fairy tale couples, the ones who sit practically on top of each other, who can’t stop touching each other, who are just so insistent on being blatantly In Love that they make any rational person want to vomit.  That kind of couple.  

Of course, at ten o’clock in the morning, I did not yet know that my heart was about to be stomped into a million irreparable pieces.  I thought that I was quite happily in love myself.  As people who think themselves in love often do, I found this so-very-happy couple to be absolutely delightful.  A vision of what I would undoubtedly look like in a very short time, when my boyfriend Daniel popped the question and we became the ones discussing vows and unity candles while sitting practically on top of each other in the minister’s office.

But at ten o’clock in the morning, I was not one half of a happy couple.  I was the minister.  This is my job.  I preach, teach Bible studies, lead Sunday school classes, the whole deal.  I also meet with happy couples and ask them about their family histories, how they met, whether they want to promise each other “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health,” or “to join with you and share all that is to come.”  I probe and pry into their most common fight topics and the things about marriage that scare them.  I encourage them to share the things they enjoy doing together.  And eventually we all stand in front of a church and I help them make the vows they’ve chosen.

Sometimes people are surprised that I do so many weddings.  They question my ability to do this kind of work when I have never been married.  Someday I’ll tell them to go ask a Catholic priest; they’ve been doing it for centuries.

That morning, I sat in my desk chair and watched as Jennifer and Michael awkwardly tried to flip through the book of vows and readings using one hand each, because their other hands were clasped tightly.  No matter that it would have made things easier, it obviously never occurred to them to let go.  I wondered whether they held onto each other so tightly because of how wonderful it felt to be joined, or because they were afraid of what would happen if they didn’t.  I felt my own fingers flex and tighten with the desire to be held.  I smiled in shared joy with the couple on the couch.  

In that moment, we were conspirators in the plot to get fourteen attendants and three small children up and down the aisle without compromising the dignity of the occasion.  My mind wandered idly toward how many bridesmaids I might have when the time came.  I had never really thought of my own wedding, had never thought the time would come, which I suppose is peculiar given how many weddings I perform for other people.  Suddenly I was thinking about it, and the thought made me smile.  

I had no idea that this would be the day when my heart would be stomped into a million irreparable pieces.  

This is the scene that comes to mind when people ask me, “Didn’t you see it coming?”  Believe me, if I had, I would have been out of there like a flash.  I am the Houdini of relationship escape artistry, and I cannot stand to be the last to know anything.  I cannot stand to be the one who has something happen to me rather than being the one who causes it.  I didn’t see it.  I saw one of those fairy tale couples, sitting on a couch, hands clutched so firmly that they can’t bear to be separated, even when it would make things easier.

Ridiculously, stupidly, I thought that would be me.  But this is not a fairy tale.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Email Etiquette

One of the things I seem to spend a lot of time doing is weeding through email.  Some of it is pure junk, which I can usually identify from the sender or subject line and delete without reading.  Some of it is necessary communication.  And then there's the junk that looks like it might be necessary, which requires me to read it to find out that it is a complete waste of time.

For example, I serve on a few boards.  The boards have email lists for communication purposes.  One person sends out a necessary email.  Another person replies.  I open this reply, expecting some sort of relevant interaction.  Instead, I find one of the following things:
- "Thanks."  One word acknowledgement of original email: not necessary.  Especially not necessary to send to the entire board.
- "Thanks.  How was your vacation to Outer Slobovia?"  If you want to have a personal conversation, please do not reply to all.
- Forwarded messages or links to articles.
- Inappropriate comments or confidential statements that were intended to be in a personal email, except that the person sending them didn't pay attention to who was getting the email.  (I recently received an email suggesting an intervention for another board member...who of course is also on the board email list.  Good times.)

So, now I'm a jerk who tells other board members that I don't read their emails, and will stop reading all list emails unless they get their email behavior in order, which I suppose is poor etiquette of another sort.  But seriously, I have email overload.  Personally, I try to send email only when it's necessary.  How do I decide whether it's necessary?  I consider whether I would pick up the phone or send a letter to communicate this information.  If it wouldn't be worth that, it's not email-worthy either.

Yes, I just spent that much time ranting about emails that take up my time.      

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Minister Dilemma

Yesterday I attended a meeting of one of the boards on which I serve.  It's a really great organization that does fabulous work in my community, ranging from food services to HIV/AIDS support to park safety and gardening for kids.  Anyway, at this board meeting, we got into a conversation about people who continue to work (and be paid) despite the fact that they are either unable or unwilling to actually do their jobs.  It's a horrible conversation to have, especially when there are specific people involved rather than just a theory, because anything you say sounds like it's some kind of judgment on the aged and infirm.  The only judgment I have about it is that it's poor stewardship for an organization to continue to pay someone who doesn't, for whatever reason, do their job.

Okay, that's not really the only judgment I have about it.  I also believe rather strongly that people need to deal with their own limitations.  If your age or infirmity is keeping you from doing your job (and therefore hamstringing an organization), you should not force your colleagues or supervisors into a lose-lose situation where they either have to be mean to you or cripple the organization, either of which will probably make them feel like crappy people.  Retire, already.

Of course, there are economic factors involved in this, along with the emotional difficulty of accepting one's limitations, and I know it's not as easy as I can make it sound when I get all up on my soapbox.  But still.  If I reach 60 or 70 or 80 and am unwell and clinging to the pulpit despite my inability to do the rest of my job, holding a church to paying me because they feel bad letting me go, please, someone, take the car keys away from grandma.

This line of thought brought us around to the large number of aging ministers who are either refusing to retire, or who are technically retired but still basically working full-time.  I'm grateful that some of them are willing to serve small, struggling congregations that can't afford a full-time minister.  If they're still physically and mentally able to serve, thanks be to God.  But I feel wary about the number of ministers I've seen who aren't really up for the job, and the churches that try to support them while struggling on without ministerial leadership.  I also know the number of qualified people coming out of seminary who are in need of positions, but can't find them, in part because churches in this area can pay a retired minister next to nothing (or actually nothing), and why spend the money or deal with a young, inexperienced minister (or God forbid, a woman) when you can get one who fits your image of what a minister ought to be like for practically free?

Around here, congregations are shrinking by the day, literally dying off.  But they can manage to keep having services until the existing congregation really does die if they have an aging pastor who will keep preaching for minimal compensation indefinitely.  Maybe that's a good thing?  I don't know, but it seems to me that it also makes it possible for churches to just continue on without ever really considering how they might be relevant in a changing world, or how to reach out to their communities, or any number of other things that I think it's valuable for congregations to deal with.

Hm.  When I started writing this post, I thought I was going to rather quickly get to another topic entirely, which is how we might support (financially and emotionally) ministers serving these small, struggling churches in a new way.  I seem to have gone off on a ranting tangent.  Oops.  Anyway, here's the deal.  The idea of these small, struggling churches being able to hire young, inexperienced ministers, even if the older ministers were to retire, is often a moot point, because they have no money.  Even people of the cloth can't live on love.  When a small church can afford a full-time minister, it's often an isolating and taxing experience that can wreak havoc on someone who is inexperienced at ministry (trust me, I've been there).  So, I've been pondering other  models of small-church ministry, such as having what is essentially a multi-staff ministry with multiple campuses (three ministers serving five or six small congregations, for example), which would relieve both some of the financial issues and the isolation issues.  Of course, it would also require churches to change their expectations of ministers, and we all know how easily that happens.

I've also been pondering a sort of socialist approach to paying ministers in a denomination, but that really is going to have to wait for another post.