I was pleased to hear about this! A friend and a couple people I listen to occasionally are included here, and I look forward to regularly learning from this collective of spiritual leaders. I hope you can read the column too.
Sunday before service started I told Nate Noonen that the sermon was hard for me, hard in the preparation. I told him it was harder for me than the words appeared to me on the page after I’d written it.
Usually I try to move beyond a sermon when it’s over. I know that many preachers find this difficult, even if by virtue of our work we, simply, have to go off to the next thing. I learned from Dallas Willard how important and ministry nurturing it can be to move along, to keep going, and to not get stuck in a sermon.
It can be a tempting thing to linger over what we say as preachers. Aside from our easy proclivity to esteem ourselves, we can also lose sight of the purpose of the sermon. It’s purpose is, in part, to move people to action.
Lingering and action contrast. The best sermons are worth lingering over, returning to, hearing again, and they somehow move us to act, to be in the world, and to be different in the world.
For me, moving beyond Sunday’s sermon has proven particularly difficult. I invited the church, our intentionally multiethnic church, to listen to and learn from the life of Hannah, a sister in the first testament who spent years asking God to remember her, asking God for a son. Most of us don’t embrace the real experience of waiting while asking for the same thing. I personally find it’s more efficient to keep going. Especially in terms of injustice and other topics that prove our country’s lack of growth, conception, and productivity.
As part of the sermon, I gave a few names of people that I think our church folks would be tutored by in our work of reconciliation. These people “came up before me” during my sermon preparation the weeks prior. They aren’t, by any means, an attempt at a longer treatment of the question. Of course this was in the same message that I offered my personal and hard questions about why that ministry of reconciliation is even important and how hard it is despite its biblical relevance. Hannah is answering some of my personal questions these days.
My brother, David, has offered a wonderful resource on the topic and related themes of reconciliation in the form of an annotated bibliography. You need to read it here.
At Nate’s request, here are those names of people I mentioned. I characterized them as contemporary renderings of 1 Samuel 1-2, fully realizing that these folks themselves would use other words to describe their work. Thanks for asking, Nate Noonen.
- The writings and work of Audre Lorde whose poem, New York City, I read as a contemporary version of our scriptural passage (1 Samuel 1:1-20)
- The writings and work of Peggy McIntosh
- The writings and work of Patricia Leary
- The writings and work of Tim Wise
- The writings and work of Ida B. Wells
- The writings and work of bell hooks
- The revolutionary suicide post on Dr. Melissa Harris Perry’s blog was to be my second contemporary version of the text but I didn’t have the time to include it; it’s here.
The morning of April 1st I woke up at 3:30. It was one of those moments like years ago when, as a seminarian and pastor, I got out of bed at 2:30 and knew I wouldn’t return to sleep.
So, like back then, I got up and got ready for the day. Before I actually went to the church. It was a payroll week and I started going through the file and reviewing some other accounting material.
This time, I had planned to wake by 4:30 because of the drive to a Wisconsin meeting. I was scheduled for a 9am committee appearance to discuss my application to become an ACPE Supervisory Candidate.
A second step in the supervisory education process–the first being readiness–candidacy is the designation that students have after exhibiting in written materials and during an in-person consultation that you 1) are a clinically competent spiritual caregiver and 2) that you are increasingly ready to take on the potential of supervisory practice.
After a successful appearance, candidates are able to provide supervision of students, under supervision of your training supervisor, but without that supervisor being in the room.
It had been planned for a while. I had submitted my materials to my presenter, the person who would introduce me formally to the committee through a written report, and to the committee itself. Each gets a different set of materials about a month before the committee appearance.
We had known that my appointment was a week prior to the due date that we expected our second son to be born. All along I told him that he could come at any point after 5pm on Friday. “Preferably Sunday,” I told him, “but after time after 5pm Friday is fine.”
That morning I got up, checked on Dawn as the plan called for, and she gave me the “I’m not in labor” sign. I left the house at 4:15, drove to Wisconsin, and watched the sun rise shortly after crossing the state line. I spoke to my supervisor as I drove up to the site a touch more than an hour before my meeting.
We talked about the presenter’s report. He spoke to my anxieties and clarified ways to think about one of the five main questions the presenter suggested as conversation starters. The plan was for me to sleep for a spell before things started.
The interview lasted for one hour and fifteen minutes. By custom, the committee started with the basic wrangling over the facts in the report, got my corrections, and began to discuss my materials. Then they asked me where I wanted to go with things. That’s a rough summary. Each was its own series of exchanges.
For the entire time, I was working, going back and forth, following five people’s logical questions about my practice of pastoral care, my self-understanding, my ways of grieving, my pastoral identity, and my ways of relating to God. It was thrilling and unsettling and opening and revitalizing. It was an open invitation to explore what I’d do with students in clinical pastoral education.
With my training supervisor silent behind me, I disclosed things about myself and my history. I laughed with them. I felt tears in my eyes. I thought about my relationship with God and how it’s changed. I went around and around as people added questions to previous questions. I clarified and felt stuck and re-worked and paused. We listened to each other, but mostly those folks worked me over in order to gauge my competence as a pastor.
It was a presentation of myself in a room of pastoral educators, and it felt like a room full of being heard, understood, and accepted. I wasn’t defensive but free. I remember liking that feeling and wanting to pass it on to the other arenas in my life. I remember thinking that being in this process so far has given me the desire to be free.
The purpose of the committee was to exhibit pastoral competency. I did that. I thanked them. I was grateful and tired. I hadn’t slept those minutes beforehand because I saw people and talked.
I passed. They brought me back after almost an hour of discussion where they prepared their official findings. They read the committee action report to me, answered questions as I raised them, and congratulated me. They also consulted with my supervisor for forty-five minutes without me being in the room. That process is in place for anyone meeting candidacy committee. Four of my colleagues went through the same process that day. We all passed.
I’m posting quotes as we go through the fuzzy zone of being new parents again in these next days. This quote comes from Carrie Doehring (The Practice of Pastoral Care: A Postmodern Approach, 111):
People become most aware of their values when they reach turning points in their lives and must make choices or when they are thrust into decision making because of a crisis. Prior to such moments, they may not have thought much about the values that orient them to the meaning and purpose of their lives. At its simplest, theology is a way to talk about people’s deepest values.
I’m posting quotes as we go through the fuzzy zone of being new parents again in these next days. This quote comes from Timothy Jones (Workday Prayers, 39):
Sometimes our words get in the way of what we want to express and do. We may pile them on even after they cease being truly wise or thought out. In these times, silence is usually more helpful to others than our words. “In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength,” the prophet said (Isaiah 30:15). On the job today, in what may be a wordy, noisy world, consider ways to nurture a silence that gives others room to speak, that gives God room to move.
She needed to turn aside and name what was unexamined and unfinished in her own life story as she continued in ministry to this woman. Were she simply to react to her as she had to her mother, she would have seen clearly neither her own story nor that of the patient, who was different from her mother in important ways. These parallels can be named and examined or referred for therapeutic work. Particular themes of grief or abandonment or abuse may provoke anxiety in the minister who has these themes as parts of his or her own history. Supervision helps the minister to learn to walk between the perils of overidentification and detached aloofness. Ministry in depth will always raise themes for the sensitive and reflective minister that are in need of attention in his or her own story. Recognizing these themes and remaining responsible in pastoral relationship are the goals of supervision that looks at life stories of parishioner and pastor.
(From Steere’s The Supervision of Pastoral Care, pg. 122)
I finished my residency in clinical pastoral education at the end of August. As part of that ending, I was in transition to stay in training by beginning work in supervisory education. I needed to stay on somewhere since the church was keeping me part-time. And an opportunity opened.
In effect, my life will continue to look like it has over the last year. I’ll continue to serve my church as one of the pastors, and I’ll continue to serve my patients as a one of the chaplains.
Most people in my church seem surprised when I mention my CPE training. They don’t feel the impact of my work. They don’t notice the differences in how I spend my days.
As a church that focuses its mission on twenty and thirty-somethings (and certainly not exclusively), most of our people are involved during their days. They aren’t coming to a church, meeting with pastors, or attending ministry meetings. That was very much the culture of my last church. At New Community, people I meet with meet me at night or on weekends because they work, study, or otherwise occupy themselves.
So, attending weekend activities at church, while working during the day at a hospital and working at night to see our church people, lends to a congregant’s surprise when learning that I’m also working in CPE. But I am continuing that work. And I’m glad to be doing so.
It’s been an interesting mix of experiences starting my program these last weeks. I’m still serving as the primary chaplain in the medical intensive care unit. I’m observing the work of my supervisor as he works with a new set of interns, starting to see supervision from a different ledge. I’m preparing didactics, reading a lot, still seeing the ups and downs of people’s lives in a busy level one trauma center that sees death daily. I sit with people going through hard spots. I pray all the time. It seems that way. It’s getting easier to sit quietly.
I’m not sure how that’ll impact my posting. I’ll still post quotes of people I read. I’ll write reviews of some of the books I’m appreciating as a way to keep my mind engaged in a number of ways with the authors of those books. I may not be able to post as much as I like.
The process before me is faith-filled. Like any growth process, the most constructive parts are unseen. The strongest impacts ahead aren’t written in a description. And I couldn’t tell you all the gifts I’ll receive as I step into what’s next. There will be love there though. There will be people that love me and people that I’ll love.
There will be learning and I’ll necessarily make more mistakes. My average has already gone up this year for mistakes! I’ll require more from my family and friends, and I’ll return the gains I’m getting from one work environment toward the people within the other environments I’m placed. I’ll deepen my conversations with my spiritual director. Me and Dawn will speak and listen more meaningfully. Bryce will get a better dad. And we’ll see what else there is.
The room of you, a small circle of goodness, lights in your faces that remind me of grace waiting, tentative scenes from your lives turning into a dozen gifts wrapped for us all.
The table cloaked with comfortable chairs, the package of cookies made by our leader’s friend and the ones Keebler made with dotted pecans, eaten and enjoyed.
The framed pictures of godly people, people who hopefully lived well, people who hopefully called upon others to do justice, love, and mercy, people whose ecclesiastical garments hopefully never blocked them from service.
The lightning, the thunder, the darkness from Ogden Avenue spilling over to us, framing our voices and reflections in the tones of divinity. These were the images and sounds of our first meeting. What a wonderful unit this will be!