Important Disclaimer

Since I currently have several employers/supervisors/churches/etc., please know that none of the words on my blog represent them or their beliefs. This blog is my own creation.

It also does not represent my children's perspective, nor my mother's; they think I am funny, but misguided.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Leaky Ministry

Three and a half years ago, I started working on a collaborative youth ministry with students in and around Trenton, NJ. We began with 2 churches, quickly added a 3rd. A 4th church joined us for a while and then left. A 5th church flirts with our ministry now and then. It's been an incredible few years. We currently have over 100 youth and young adults from 5th grade through college age who participate on a regular basis. Our ministry has expanded outside of the churches' boundaries into the surrounding neighborhoods, bringing together a wild mix of people from different racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. It has been exhilarating and challenging.

Over the last year, one of our churches has been in conversation with me about stepping out of our collaboration. My last day on staff with Covenant Presbyterian Church will be July 31. Because of the nature of this collaborative ministry, all of our students will continue to be part of our ministry, even as Covenant moves on to other ways of being church.

Many folks have been asking me how I feel about all of this and what the implications are for continued ministry, especially with students who originally came to us through Covenant's doors. 

First, our students will remain with our ministry. It was never our intent for the collaborative ministry to replace church membership, but rather to supplement and support what the churches can do for themselves. I will continue as pastor with this ministry and with all of our students. 

Second, like any ending, this ending comes with a multitude of emotions that are difficult to articulate all at once. I am so grateful for the years of support Covenant has offered. I am sad and angry that this part of our collaboration is ending. I am relieved that I will be able to continue ministering with our students. I am excited about new focus and energy this year as we reshape our ministry. And so much more that I cannot say here--endings are so full of emotion!

Third, I have learned so much in the last three years. So much about ministry, about inter-cultural ministry, about how churches work, about what I love and don't love about the business of being church. I have learned boatloads about myself, how I work and don't work well, what I am longing for as a pastor in community, what I desire for myself as an individual, balancing/integrating work and family life. I've learned about working for 5 bosses at once (not counting Jesus). 

I expect, as I continue with this ministry, that I will learn so much more from our students, their families, and the church communities that support us. 

I pray for Covenant, their leadership and membership, and for the surrounding community. I pray that they might be blessed in their future ministry, that they might be a conduit for the Spirit of God, pouring out love into the community, in ways beyond our human understanding.

I pray for peace in all of our hearts, that we might know we did all we could to honor God and one another in our relationship together over the last three and a half years. May God continue to work on our stubborn, flawed souls, teasing out the music of creation despite our best efforts.

Go in peace, wipe the dust. Christ will do the rest.

Selah.



Sunday, July 19, 2015

Where The Remnant Will Gather

Sunday, July 19, 2015
Sermon by Katie Miulligan
Many thanks to Rev. Daniel Eisenberg for the invitation to preach.

Scripture Readings:

Jeremiah 23:1-6 (the sermon was focused around this scripture)
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 (I read this scripture prior to the sermon according to the habits of this church. While the Mark passage was on my mind while working on the sermon, I did not explicitly connect it.)

Today's audio recording came out well, so I am not providing a transcript. This sermon was preached almost entirely from notes. So for those of you who keep asking if I ever preach without a manuscript, yes; yes I do. 

Click here to listen to or download the audio: Where The Remnant Will Gather

As always, dedicated to my students. 
You are all so beautiful and smart and wonderful. 
You are loved.

For more information about UMIO (United Mercer Interfaith Organization), please go to the website at http://unitedmercerinterfaith.org, contact Rev. Lukate Mjumbe at umioorganizer@gmail.com, or join our Facebook group

One quick correction, UMIO is a group of more than pastors, imams, and rabbis. Most of us are non-ordained people of faith. And THIS is why I prefer to preach with a manuscript.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

What's Next

Sunday, July 5, 2015
Sermon by Katie Mulligan
Preached at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Trenton, NJ

Scripture: Mark 6:1-13


It has been a difficult month in the City of Trenton. Five men and one boy have been murdered since May 31. I have been in constant prayer for the families and loved ones of Paris France Way, Ronnie Livingston, Harvey Sharp, Edwin Saddler, Jah’vae Miney, and Edward Kevin Nock. They left behind mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, lovers, wives, best friends, children, aunties and uncles and neighbors.Teachers and pastors who are struggling to make sense of the violent death of students they taught and young men they prayed for. Tied to their deaths are the perpetrators, those who have taken six lives well before their time. What becomes of those who do such a thing? For all of us who are left, what do we do next? This is the question that has been occupying my mind for over a year as many of us have walked together in prayer on the streets of Trenton and in our houses of worship and in our own prayer lives.

The oldest of these men was 43, Edward Nock, stabbed to death by a man who had been staying with him in his home. The youngest? Jah’vae Miney, 16 years old, shot to death on the corner of Prospect and Bellevue—right there on the corner by the Serenity Garden, God help us all.

Jah’vae was friends with some of our students—Trenton is, after all, a very small town. 84,000 people in 7.5 square miles. 11,000 people or so per square mile of land in this city. We are packed in here pretty tight. In every violent death that has occurred in this city over the last year, we see over and over how closely people are related to one another here in this city. Somebody always knows somebody who knew the person who died. And just as assuredly, although not as loudly proclaimed,

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Meow Meow Gay Gay

Following along a conversation about desire (and in the comments of course it turns to homosexual desire) that goes something like this: "Giving in to our urges/desires cannot be consistent with the Gospel. Resisting temptation is God's will for us."

And I guess that makes sense if one is tempted to evil, nasty things. And if one believes that homosexuality is an evil, nasty thing, then probably I'm not going to convince you.

But God sometimes surprises us when we pray for temptation to be removed. Sometimes God says, "Hey, go ahead and eat that cookie. I put it there for you."

So for instance, I have traditionally fed my cats dry kibble because it is good for their teeth to crunch on things, it keeps them leaner, it is cheaper for my budget--in short, it's healthier. But last week I took the LadyCat to the vet, and she said my old feline friend probably has early kidney disease. The way to treat this best is to get as much liquid in her as possible each day. Cats don't easily drink more water. So the solution? Feed her canned food.

LadyCat LOVES canned food. Given the option, she would eat that. Given the option, she would climb over your head to get to it. The mere sound of the can opening sends her into a frenetic state of desire, the likes of which I have not seen since I got the last cat spayed.

It's like I went to the doctor who said to me, "You have an incurable, fatal disease. I'm prescribing chocolate, and lots of it."

And I think it's like when queer folk pray and pray and pray for homosexual desire to be lifted from them, and the answer to their prayers comes in like this, "Beloved, go find love. Enjoy. Be happy. Make love. Hold hands. Make those ridiculous cooing noises you humans do. You're dying from not-love. Go in peace and live fully."

Honest. God gives us desire, not just for the sake of tormenting us. And desire is not just a product of the fall--there were fruits and nekkid cavorting before Adam and Eve knew better. There is a season for self-sacrifice and martyrdom, and there is a season for indulging desire and whim.

If you need your God to be sterner than that, perhaps you weren't prescribed chocolate. And I'm sorry for that, but I do suggest you take it up with the Lord.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Will I See You Tomorrow?

Thinking through 1 John 4:7-12...


In January I stayed with the Church of All Nations in Minneapolis, MN. CAN graciously offered me a little basement hideout where I could spend some weeks of vacation and study leave, living in community at the Chatham House with several other adults in their 30's. (Shut up. I could totally pass for my 30's.)

CAN has several community housing arrangements, including a residential seminary, some folks living in converted Sunday School classrooms at the church, and several other church members who have opened their homes to those who wish to live in community. Communal living is at the heart of what CAN is doing as a church, and I enjoyed my time there immensely. Chatham House is close to the church and to the seminary (Fink House), so I could walk to church events easily (even in January in Minnesota!). I ate almost all of my meals with church folks, most often home cooked meals offered by one church member or another. There was always extra for guests, always leftovers for tomorrow, and always company if desired.

I've been thinking about my time at CAN a lot in the last 6 months. I miss that community often as I go about my daily life at home. I have my own communities here that function in different ways, and I love my "regular" life. But there was something very unique about CAN and I've been pondering that uniqueness. Perhaps it was this question:

"Will I see you tomorrow?"

As I participated in the rhythm of the church, it became apparent that a significant part of the church has put CAN at the center of their daily lives. In my "regular" life back home, it's pretty common to say to people, "See you next Sunday!" or "Are you coming next week?" But at CAN, I often asked (and was asked), "Will I see you tomorrow?" It went like this:

"Will I see you tomorrow?"
"Yeah! Wouldn't miss it! You?"
"Yes, I will be there!"

or like this:

"Will I see you tomorrow?"
"What's tomorrow?"
"You know, the (cell group/potluck/Bible study/worship/dinner at someone's house/thing we are doing)."
"Oh cool! Yeah!"

or like this:

"Will I see you tomorrow?"
"No, I have to (work/see a friend/study/read/get ready for another thing/whatever)."
"Oh darn. I'll miss you!"
"Yeah, but I'm coming to that other thing on Friday."
"Yay!"

or like this:

"Will I see you tomorrow?"
"I'm not sure. I don't have a ride."
"Well, I could come get you."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah, it's on my way."

or like this:

"Will I see you tomorrow?"
"I'm not sure I'm up for it."
"You ok?"
"(Yeah, just been working a lot/No, not really it's been tough because (reason))"

A thousand iterations, but always the assumption that there's a very good possibility we might see each other tomorrow. And always with a care for the answer. 

I've been thinking a lot about the power of being in daily contact with one another, even if just for a brief meal. Familiarity with one another's lives and schedules means people know they matter. Several times I'd ask, "Hey, where's so-and-so? Will they be here tonight?" And the group would stop for a second and think about if they knew the answer. Someone would say, "Oh, yeah, they'll be here after 8, that's when they get off work." Or, "Nah, tonight's the night they go do Trivia Line Dancing at the Karaoke Bar." Or, "Maybe, if cell group gets out on time."

It was intimate, this knowing about each other's lives. For those of us who include churchy things in our weekly schedules as a discrete and separate category on our calendar, we are missing out on this kind of intimacy. We are missing out on being cared for and caring for one another in some significant way.

I expect some folks will push back and say that it is difficult and/or incorrect to make church the centerpiece (and yeah yeah, Jesus is the centerpiece, work with me here) if one has family. But I saw several families participating in this way. I think/hope/long for this kind of community to be possible, even as I am not always sure how to make it happen in my "regular" life.

CAN has it's share of mess and fuss (and messy and fussy people), but there is a way that daily contact reduces frustration to loving exasperation. There was a way in which if today didn't go so well between us, it was clear that we'd probably have tomorrow to work on it some more. I liked it. And when my time there came to a close, and someone asked, "Will I see you tomorrow?" I was really sad to have to say, "No, I am headed back to New Jersey."

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. ~1 John 4:7-12

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Take a Chance on a Kid

A while back, before I went to seminary, I worked for the YMCA for a bunch of years. I ran summer camps, and we hired 30 or so staff over the summer. About half of those staff would stay on through the next school year, working with our after school programs. One or two would direct the next year's camps, move up through the organization, and then, eventually, they would leave us.

They left us for better jobs, for which I always served as a reference, cheerfully.
They left us for school, which made my heart dance.
They left us for families of their own, of which, for a little bit, we were part.

One time I hired a kid, barely 18. He had about zero experience, but we needed another camp counselor, his sister recommended him, and he was eager. So I took a chance and assigned him to work with two other staff.

I don't think I was his favorite boss. Those were some challenging years in those programs.

But he came back in the fall.
And then he was back the next summer.
He finished community college.
Then he transferred to a 4 year.
Then he did his PhD.
And now he's a professor somewhere.

I used to tease him that when he became a big shot whatever, he would forget his people and the little people along the way. But no, not at all. His work is brilliant and insightful, and he's teaching hundreds of students every year to not forget his people either.

I miss that job, sometimes. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Child Sexual Assault

Today my Facebook and Twitter timelines have been flooded with the story of Josh Duggar and his alleged sexual assault of several children. This story is tragic and common.

I was sexually assaulted by a relative as a child. There are parallels from my life to this story, minus the celebrity complication.

We have not figured out as a society how to deal with child sexual assault. At least in some part this is because pedophilia does not seem to respond well to available treatments. And so what does one do with those who perpetrate.

We have not figured out how to deal with child sexual assault. At least in some part because many perpetrators were victims themselves. And most often they did not receive justice or counseling either. This creates an ambivalence that many of us will not admit, but that nevertheless permeates the conversation.

We have not figured out how to deal with child sexual assault. At least in some part because somewhere deep inside (or sometimes right out there on the surface) we believe as a society that victims of child sexual assault are to blame or are implicated in their own abuse. 

We have not figured out how to deal with child sexual assault. At least in some part because it is extremely inconvenient to deal with it. Families get broken apart and destabilized. Parents lose custody and someone else has to care for children. People go to jail and lose jobs. It's very expensive.

We have not figured out how to deal with child sexual assault. At least in some part because we are squeamish. The conversation, despite the nearly sexual titillation of celebrity headlines, makes us uncomfortable, triggers our own trauma, makes us feel guilty/ashamed, reminds us that our own houses are made of glass. 

We have not figured out how to deal with child sexual assault. At least in some part because it is not a simple problem. Most often children love the relative who abuses them. Most often we love the cousin who perpetrated. Most often we are dependent in some way on the perpetrator who is our spouse/parent/uncle/aunt/grandparent/coach/teacher/pastor.

We have not figured out how to deal with child sexual assault. At least in some part because there is absolutely no place a potential perpetrator could turn to get help without getting buried in shame or not being taken seriously. 

We have not figured out how to deal with child sexual assault. At least in some part because we know the justice system is not in the slightest bit just. People of color are wrongly convicted and more harshly sentenced than white folks. White folks walk away from unspeakable crimes. 

We have not figured out how to deal with child sexual assault. At least in some part because we do not wish to talk about this subject openly. Our family secrets are generational and painful. We are scared to let in the devil in the night--better not to speak his or her name.

We have not figured out how to deal with child sexual assault. At least in some part because we have fetishized youth and youthful bodies, slimness, hairlessness, demure/naive/sweetness, compliance. We work hard to mentally block the connection between that societal fetish and a desire for pre-pubescent bodies, and a national conversation about child sexual assault would require us to face that head on.

We have not figured out how to deal with child sexual assault because we don't want to. And our children are suffering for it. More children than we will ever know. More suffering than we will ever know. But we will feel the effects of child sexual assault nonetheless.

And until we figure out how to deal with child sexual assault, it will not stop.