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, October 14, 2014

Monthly Mailing: Late Again

Postwoman
British Postal Museum & Archive
Or, Why I Do My Own Admin Work...

I've been working on my "monthly" mailing to youth and their parents, which at this point is overdue 6 weeks. I've been trying to get at it for two months now, but the school year kicked off with roar, and I haven't stopped moving since August 15.

Meeting after meeting after meeting to plan things, to get it all together, the google calendar, the Facebook groups...the ministry blog hasn't been updated since February...I'm moving as fast as I can!

Every meeting with pastors goes something like this: 
"People don't know what's happening."
"It's in the newsletter."
"People don't read the newsletter."
"Right. It's in the bulletin."
"People don't pay attention to bulletin announcements."
"Right. It's on the Facebook."
"Not everyone's on Facebook."
"Yes, I know that. Have you considered getting a Facebook?"
<and here it varies, because some of the pastors have one already>
"Harumph. Phone calls are a good way."
"Pastor, people don't answer their phones or check their voicemails. I could text some things, but not the long stuff."
"People still use phones."
"Right. Yes. Ok."
"A mailing might work."
"Yes! A mailing! I'm working on it. I'll have it out by Friday."
"Why don't you let our church admin do the mailing for you?"

Ahhh the mailing. My favorite communication tool for youth ministry! You think I'm being snarky, but snail mail is the best way to reach youth and their parents.

It's tricky, though, to get a mailing right. And it isn't work I can delegate to the church admin--it would take me just as long to explain how I need it done as it would to just do it.

And it takes a couple of days' work to get it right.
Better to get it out than to get it perfect, right? 
Nope.
A poorly done youth ministry mailing just makes a muddle of things.
Better to get it right.

First thing is to address the envelopes. I do this by hand, writing out the student's name and address with my favorite pen. Then the parent's envelope--everybody gets their own. Siblings get their own. It's worth the extra stamps, trust me. As I'm writing the students' and parents' names, their faces come to me, bits of their story refresh my memory, I can picture where they live. As I write, I think about how long it's been since I saw them last. Sometimes I pull them off the active list.

I sort the envelopes as I write into different piles: Middlers, Jr. High, High School, Young Adult, Volunteers. Some of the students are at the boundaries of their age groups, and for one reason or another get more than one set of flyers. The boundary breakers have their own pile.

Some of the parents have more than one student in different age groups. The parents of multiples get their own pile--those parents only want one envelope of information.

The pastors get their own pile. They won't read the flyers, but I can say I gave them the info. It's important to be able to say you gave them the info. Everyone feels better that way.

And then time to make the flyers. Several different sets of overlapping information. Age groups in our ministry come together, break apart, come together again. Part of keeping their attention is giving them a glimpse of what's coming in a year or two. But the high school students don't care what the 5th graders are doing, and the 5th graders don't care what the college students are doing. So different flyers with the info people need.

Who still needs permission slips? Right now everybody, we're at the start of the year. By January, there will be the stragglers who haven't filled it out yet--the ones who come to just a few things, and they haven't been by in a while.

A letter to the parents, hopefully short, explaining why they are getting this stuff. So many of our parents don't exactly know which youth group or church their student is involved with. It's hard to keep track, and the students are notoriously bad about giving their parents info.

My phone number, email, and Facebook page plastered all over everything.

And then notes on the flyers--just a quick one, or I'd be here a week. But a little note to say I miss you, or see you soon, or happy birthday, or just I'm really glad you're around. To the parents, call with any questions or concerns. I'm praying for you. Missing you.

Stuffing, closing.

Throw it all in the nearest mail drop.

And through it all, for a couple of days, I remember the hours I spent with my youth pastor, Terry McBride, labeling, stamping, licking envelopes. I remember watching him write a little note on most of them, his all caps handwriting distinctive. I recognized that handwriting from the notes he sent me--those notes kept me coming.

There's a rhythm to this thing. I don't keep this work out of pride, I keep it out of love. Mailings are a prayer, and prayer takes quiet time. And so the mailings are usually later than I want them, because quiet time is hard to find around here.

In this last year, in the anxiety of congregational systems overwhelmed by transition, I got caught up in it all. This year I forgot that I really know what I'm doing. 

We've had people come and go, and everytime someone stops coming for a while (or for good), the congregation feels the anxiety of that loss. But that isn't how youth ministry works. We keep our hands open so that people can slip through like water. They come when they want. They don't when they don't. We try not to grip so hard. They'll be back, probably. If not, they'll get my note.

And in the end, whoever comes to the banquet, that's who we feast with. We leave an empty chair for the prodigals and prop open the door for the bridesmaids who forgot their oil.

It isn't just a mailing, it's a prayer. It's a hug in an envelope. It's an engraved invitation to step back through our doors. It's a fervently held wish. It's a promise fulfilled.

It isn't just a mailing. And it'll be out by Friday.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sheep in the Wilderness

Sunday, October 12, 2014
Sermon by Katie Mulligan
Covenant Presbyterian Church

Scripture Readings: Exodus 13:17-22 and John 21:15-19

A few weeks ago, Pastor Molly asked me if I would play with the idea that we are, as a church, beginning a journey into the wilderness. Jason will preach next week and will continue that theme, so my job this morning was to get you out of Egypt and onto the journey. I’ve been pondering this thought for the last two weeks, and here’s what I think is true: I don’t have to get us out into the wilderness—we are already there.

I was going to try some funky things with the youth and with you all here in worship this week. But, as often happens in the wilderness, things got a little out of hand with our ministry. I’ve spent hours over the last two weeks—and some of you have too—trying to figure out how to configure our youth

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

the long haul

so this is how it went tonight:

there was a student who said at 8am
i'm OUT
and i figured it'd be a month before she came around again
cuz i know her
and if we can get in the same room we can work it out
but it's getting in the room that's the trick

so i went on with my day rather sad
and it's messed with everything since 9am
cuz i'm in this for the long haul
but sometimes the short term losses suck

so at 8pm a pair of young adults
texted
and i'm too old for texting
they asked to meet for a drink
and i'm too old for that too
on a school night

but if two young adults ask you for a drink
you go

Monday, October 6, 2014

Vigil

I sat vigil tonight for our community
no homicides since July 30
the longest stretch of quiet 
since May 2012
nobody else came
but I don't mind
I sat and prayed
anyway
and sang
I sang hymns
and crocheted a scarf
and I prayed
for the children
for women and men
in Trenton
for my children
for myself

     I sat vigil in our small chapel
     and it doesn't matter that I was alone
     if there's anything I've learned as a mother
     it's that sometimes
     as the sun goes down

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Herky Jerky


I've been re-reading C. S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters after a conversation with a colleague reminded me I haven't read them in years. It's been two decades, in fact. I am so clearly different from the just-barely-woman I was at 20. Since then I have married, divorced, borne (and partly raised) two sons, buried my mother-in-law, finished two degrees and dropped out of a PhD program. I have moved 8 times and have been ordained as a pastor. I've buried 4 cats.

So many joys and sorrows, each leaving their mark--laugh lines, stretch marks, ragged scars. This business of carrying the marks of what we have done, what we have experienced, goes back to Cain, doesn’t it? Who among us dares to deny sanctuary to another?

It’s been a difficult year—perhaps my most difficult. The landscape of this life is familiar, but surreal, constantly shifting, and I feel out of step, as if I am dancing to the wrong song as the rest of life moves to a proper rhythm. My feet aren’t planted—like a kid carrying too many balloons on a windy day. I have longed this year to float away into fantasy and wishful thinking. As unbelievable as life has been this year, my daydreams are just as

Monday, September 22, 2014

you weren't made for this world

Once
I met a man
in a psych ward, who
came by ambulance
after
they peeled him off a street in Manhattan, on which
he had blocked
4
lanes
of
traffic
with his body
by lying across the center line.

After they picked up his miraculously unbroken
body
they deposited him in the psych ward, where
he grinned about the traffic
when he wasn't grimacing about the meds.

The traffic, tho
it kept moving.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Where You Go, I Go


Sunday, September 7, 2014
Sermon by Katie Mulligan

Scripture Reading: Ruth 1:1-18 (and Matthew 10 was on my mind too)

The audio for those of you who prefer it. I confess that I still talk too fast, and it exhausted me to listen to it.

I have been struggling in these weeks since Mike Brown was killed in Ferguson, MO to find something coherent to say about racism, violence, divided communities, and the gospel. Those of you who follow my social media will laugh at the idea that I struggle with words—after all my facebook and twitter have been awash with articles, blogs, opinions, rants, news stories, etc.  I have not been silent—I have lifted up the voices of many, many individuals, amplifying the anger and despair and frustration that has tumbled through my social media connections. I have added my own thoughts to the chorus, and over the last month several people have messaged me, asking if I am ok. The conversation goes something like this: “All you have posted for the last few weeks is about Mike Brown and Ferguson. You haven’t posted a cat picture in weeks. Are you ok?”

I don’t know how to answer that except to say that in these last few weeks it has seemed unthinkable to post cat pictures in the midst of the real grief and anger expressed by people I care deeply for. And since I have been working with black and brown youth in Trenton and Ewing and Lawrenceville these last few years, I have grown fiercely protective of these students, whose lives are more prone to violence from all sources. When I saw the initial reports of Mike Brown’s death on twitter, I knew immediately that this could have been one of our children, one of our students, here in our church. So no, I’m not ok.