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.
(Quick update: only my mother thinks I'm funny now.)

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Dry and Thirsty Work

I went to church this morning, as I most times do. I work for three churches, you know, so I'm usually at one or two of them on any given Sunday. I serve in those spaces with delight and joy--I surely do. Today was a communion Sunday, and I poured out the grape juice for our people like Jesus himself was with us. The blood of Christ shed for you. And for you. And yes, even for YOU.

But then I had a little extra time today, as I almost never do, and the timing worked out that I could go to a church to simply BE and worship a while. Beloved Community in Trenton takes me in every now and then. (Beloved worships on
Sundays at 11:30am at 471 Parkway Avenue, Trenton, NJ with the Rev. Toby Sanders) They welcome me and my sorrows and joys like I'd been there last week, praying, singing, preaching, praying. And there a Word pierces my heart and God only knows what that Word will do over the next few months until I sit with them again. Oh, I wept in church today...

One of my greatest fears and regrets about ordination is the loss of my church membership. In my tradition, when a pastor is ordained as a teaching elder, they are no longer a member of the local church that has cared and nurtured them through the process. No, they are now accepted as a member of the Presbytery, a regional body constituted of teaching elders and ruling elders from the various nearby churches. We worship together a few times a year, that Presbytery body, but it is a constantly shifting membership, with ruling elders coming and going as often as they are commissioned by their local churches. Presbytery membership, however it might have been conceived, is no substitute for the loss of one's local church membership. And serving as pastor is not the same as being a member, not by any stretch of the imagination.

This pastoring gig, a lot of times, is dry and thirsty work in a dry and dusty land, and if I am not careful, I can give away my last cup of water without knowing where I will get more.

Oh I have my spiritual directors-one Christian, one Muslim. I have an Executive Presbyter, who cares for me in spectacular ways--she prays for me often, I know that. I've got a therapist--and God bless HIS patient soul, that's for sure. I've got supervising pastors and colleagues coming out of my ears with this collaborative work I'm doing.

Not naming names, but this could be them.
I have colleagues in the West Jersey Presbytery whom I adore with all my heart. I won't name names, because it won't help their cause, but they know who they are. We break bread together, and laugh, and laugh, and talk, and pray, and laugh. They fill me with joy in the Lord.

One night a few years ago, I was running late for a Presbytery meeting. My friends saved me a seat near them in the back--we are like little children with the twitter and the facebook and the jokes. Most of us are newcomers to this Presbytery, if not to ministry. Picture your teenagers in the balcony and it's something like that. We take Presbytery seriously, don't get me wrong, we just take ourselves with a grain of salt. 

Well, they saved me a seat, but it was in the middle of the pew. I knew I'd have to crawl over people or empty out half the pew to get to it, and that seemed disruptive. I sized up the situation and saw that there was an open window in the narthex right above my saved seat. So I tossed my backpack over the ledge and climbed over myself. Plopping down next to a startled colleague, I held out my hand and said, "I'm Katie Mulligan, nice to meet you."

He looked me up and down, took my hand doubtfully, and said, "I know who you are. I'm _________." We'll I had just plopped down next to one of our most proper and conservative pastors. And that's saying something, because we Presbyterians are a dour lot. My friends snickered at the whole situation, and to this day, they tell me they'll leave a window open for me. I love me some Presbytery.

Oh I love these people I see every few months, and I know that window is always open. But it's the day to day that gets me. My cup runneth over and then it runs dry.

Once, a dear friend came to visit me on a weekend. Sunday morning she decided to come to church with me, where I was working. Bright and early she rose to make the coffee and an egg sandwich, and she made one for me too. Throwing open the curtains she sang out, "This is the day that the Lord has made!!!" And I mumbled from my pillow, "Yeah, yeah, let us rejoice and all that." 

My friend, undaunted, handed me my coffee and said, "Isn't it a beautiful day! How lovely it will be to worship together again!" And I said sourly, "Friend, this is not worship for me, this is work."

"Kathryn Mulligan!" she yelled. "You take that back!" And she took my coffee cup and slammed it on the counter. Only this friend could mother me like that, and I got out of bed obediently, drank my coffee, and went to worship-work with her. She is both a morning person AND not a pastor and so worship wasn't to me what it was to her. This is the way of things.

Here, I give you "Raven, the acid bath princess of darkness" lip synching to Evanescence's "Going Under". I am a morning person like this.

It is dry and thirsty work, this pastoring business. My cup runneth over and then it runs dry.

So I go, sometimes, to this Beloved Community, and I WORSHIP there, and I leave full.

Today the Rev. Toby Sanders preached on Fulfilled Dreams and Promises from Genesis 46:
So Israel took his journey with all that he had, and he came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. Then God spoke to Israel in the visions of the night, and said, "Jacob, Jacob!" And he said, "Here I am."
I wish you'd heard that sermon, that Word he preached that pierced my heart and made way for the Spirit to move through dry and dusty places in my soul. Here's a little taste of that sermon, although I'll carry the whole of it around for a while...

To be human is to have dreams
and to be human is to have broken dreams
and to be human is to have fulfilled dreams
all in the same breath...

Indeed, the very way we breathe is a grasping after God the simple act of breathing
you realize the promise of God
which is abundant life, eternal life...

this is the nature of life
we are always in between
brokenness and fulfillment... 

You've got to go past the promise
to get to the purpose
Don't be afraid to go past the promised land into Egypt
because I have made provision for you there...

Sometimes we are healed by those who have been hurt by us
Sometimes we are blessed by those we have cursed...

And then he closed with the next two verses from Genesis:
Then he said, ‘I am God, the God of your father; do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make of you a great nation there. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again; and Joseph’s own hand shall close your eyes.’
I can't do it justice this sermon, this Word. But his words brought me back to a night long ago in a church sanctuary. A night I poured out fear and poison that was killing my soul, and I called on God as witness to my rage, and we held court right there for someone who never got his. I conjured up that man too, and I wouldn't be surprised if he woke up that night in a cold sweat, coming face to face with what he had done.

I made my own covenant with God that night, that I would come when called. And that night God promised that out of fear and death would come joy. God has never lifted that call, and I insist on my joy. It is an uneasy alliance between two stubborn parties.

In the winter this year, I had trials and tribulations coming out my ears. I wrote about grief all 46 days of Lent--every day, because my grief was unrelenting. I held tight to that covenant. Out of this WOULD come joy--I have been promised.

Out of THIS season of grief, there will come joy.

This winter I marked that covenant with a tattoo. I started with a black widow spider. When I was a child we had nests of black widows in our house. I was convinced that one bite meant a slow, agonizing death. And there are ways in which I was already dying that death in those days.

The body of the spider is the body ALSO of the 8th note--a light and airy note of joy that has been promised as surely as death, coming straight out of the spiders I so feared. I've made my peace with these 8-legged creatures. It helps that poisonous spiders are much rarer in New Jersey than California. Perhaps I am in the promised land after all...

Oh, I wept in church today. It is dry and dusty, but my cup runneth over. Thank you, Pastor.

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