MLCI Blog

The Balancing Act of Ministry

Laurieby Rev. Laurie Metzko, LTS Class of 2014

When I think of what challenges I might experience as my life as a minister grows and changes, I suspect they won’t be much different than the things I’m already experiencing – maintaining clear boundaries, finding “me-time,” and being able to say “no” when needed.

To date I have been a part-time minister working at balancing ministry along with my full-time secular job as a bookkeeper, my life as a wife and a mom of two grown sons, and the rest of what I like to call “my crazy world.” Life is always a balancing act, and what I’ve found to be key in meeting the challenge of balance is boundaries.  The busier I am the more important it is to maintain boundaries – in all aspects of life.  Finding “me-time” is my greatest challenge; it is easy for me to push off taking time for myself.  The ability to say “no” and not feel guilty is also a challenge.  Balance only comes when one is aware one needs balance and it takes work to achieve and maintain it.  I am thankful that I am able to maintain balance (most of the time).

I am fortunate in that I am surrounded by a host of colleagues that have been in ministry for a long period of time.  They have provided me with great examples of what to do as well as what not to do.  Those who “get it right” honor their days off by “unplugging” from all the technology that keeps us constantly available to the world.  Honoring family time by not allowing constant interruptions is also important.  They take time for themselves – outside of family time – time to enjoy a hobby or activity that is just for them.  They’ve shown me spiritual practices to “fill up” my own spiritual well; practices such as Taize music, devotional readings that are shared with other colleagues, and the importance of being still.  I believe these are just a few of the things that help a minister remain healthy, happy, and fulfilled in ministry.

As I look forward to continuing my career in ministry, I pray that I can continue setting healthy boundaries, practice a variety of methods that replenish my own spirituality, and remember the importance of Sabbath.  Each of these allows me to preserve individual identity while caring for those in my midst.  I believe these to be critical components of a healthy minister and of one who wishes to remain in ministry at length.  While it all sounds simple as I write this, I know that each of these practices and skills remains a challenge to make happen in the midst of a busy life.  I also know that it is possible because I have seen those who do so and from them I have seen the results I wish to achieve.

 

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The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) will assist those in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship will span the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister. The MLCI is a ministry of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in partnership with Lexington Theological Seminary.

The MLCI blog series is designed to promote conversation surrounding issues related to clergy health and well-being. The blog seeks to include and incorporate writers from a wide variety of ministerial contexts, seminaries and demographics.

 

 

Caring for Vocation and Self

SONY DSCBy Rev. Kyle McDougall, Resident Minister, Central Christian Church, Lexington, Ky.

As a young clergy person in transition to my next call, I’m excited and a little bit scared. Moving to a new town where my husband and I know no one is pretty stressful. In a situation like this, I assume that it will be easy to let the work of the church take up most of my time. But, entering into this new call I want to set healthy boundaries so that I continue to love my vocation while also taking care of myself as a wife, friend and Christian. As a couple, my husband and I have discussed how we intend to make friends outside of the church. We’re leaving behind our friends and family but we both understand that meeting people outside of the church is going to be important for our mental and spiritual well-being. We plan to continue enjoying hobbies together, and apart, in order to make our relationships flourish and last.

Going forward, one thing that is extremely important to me, and my ministry, is time off. Too often I’ve witnessed my colleagues coming in on their day-off, canceling vacations, and making excuses not to take their sabbaticals. It wasn’t until recently that I was mentored by a senior minister that was and is, very intentional about his boundaries. EVERY Tuesday from the moment he started as senior, he was off. He understands the importance of time away and so do I. Time off isn’t only necessary for rest and relaxation, it allows for the heart and the head to gain a new perspective on the situation, the church, and in some cases the world.

Another practice that is exceedingly important for healthy ministry is participation in a clergy group. A group like this can be ecumenical or denomination-specific. It can be gender exclusive or not. It’s up to the group. But this group HAS to be a safe place where you can cry, laugh, scream, share, complain, and lift each other up. Where you can give and receive advice, counseling, and love. I was part of such a group and my number one priority in my new call is to find another. Ministry can be an isolated profession, but it doesn’t have to be.

Accepting a new call is the perfect opportunity to ‘fine tune’ and evolve your ministry into your perfect balance between ‘work’ and personal/family time. It gives you the chance to set the tone from the beginning. Now, I understand that some of you have been in the same congregation for years, so mid-course corrections are fine too! Honestly, the church is much better off if you’re taking care of yourself. This allows you to be at your best for the church. This balance looks different for each and every one of us – a lesson that took me a while to learn. I kept attempting to do what everyone else was doing, but now I am trying to find my own niche. As my ministry evolves, how I balance my life will evolve with it.

 

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The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) will assist those in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship will span the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister. The MLCI is a ministry of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in partnership with Lexington Theological Seminary.

The MLCI blog series is designed to promote conversation surrounding issues related to clergy health and well-being. The blog seeks to include and incorporate writers from a wide variety of ministerial contexts, seminaries and demographics.

Healthy Clergy/Healthy Churches: Finding a Balance

Brian and his wife, Rev. Carrie Gerard

Brian and his wife, Rev. Carrie Gerard

by Brian Gerard, Senior Minister, First Christian Church of Louisville

My first full-time call as a local church pastor was almost my last.

Within one week of my arrival I was called a racially charged epithet during a meeting.  Certain that I had said something to provoke the event, the elders of the church asked that I apologize to the one who said it. To be sure I handled the conversation appropriately, the chair of the elders accompanied me.

I knew then it was going to be a bumpy ride.  I thought about resigning, but we had just moved halfway across the country and had bills to pay.  Sometimes necessity dictates order, so I buckled up and prepared myself for what may come.

The biggest part of that preparation was to live into what I had been taught by teachers, mentors, and colleagues about clergy spirituality and self-care.  I did everything one is supposed to do including daily prayer and devotion, exercise, peer groups, spiritual direction, social relationships, and even regular worship at other churches.

All of these things helped, but they were not enough.  They were not enough to handle the letters slipped under my door, the visits to my office intended to offer helpful advice, the continuing accusations about my motives in ministry, and the constant calls for evaluation and correction.  These things were such regular occurrences that one member of the congregation would call me whenever he caught wind of something brewing.

Don’t get me wrong, there were some great people in that church.  Some of the best people I have ever met.  I also know that there were times I did not help the situation.  I am sure that my lack of experience combined with a fresh out of seminary confidence spiced with a dash of my own issues added to the struggle.

In spite of the challenges, we were able to do some really good things in ministry including numerical growth, property expansion, and the development of a more inclusive church environment. There were some really good days in ministry and for those I am grateful.

However, for every step forward there was a price to pay. My health suffered.  My marriage suffered.  Most discouraging, my faith suffered because I thought I was doing everything a pastor was supposed to do to remain strong in faith and service but it was not enough.

After four and a half years of trying I knew it was time to go.  I also felt that if this was ministry, I wanted no part of it.  After much thought, my wife and I decided we’d give it one more try at one more church.

I am so glad we did.  Twelve years later I am still happily serving that congregation and it feels like we are just getting started.  My self-care practices haven’t changed much. If anything they are more sporadic.  Yet, I am as spiritually healthy and charged for ministry as I have ever been.

In that reality, I have learned something about ministry.  No matter how spiritually healthy a pastor may be, he or she cannot survive in a spiritually unhealthy system.  I’ve also learned that even when there are wonderful people present who see what is happening and are willing to work toward healing it is a task easier said than done.

I am all about the church continuing to focus on clergy self-care and spirituality and am glad to see LTS emphasizing its importance.  Pastors cannot lead others in faith if we are not feeding our own faith and well being.  That said, it is time for the church as a whole to become a stronger voice in encouraging and in some cases demanding that congregations/church related institutions take a look at their own spiritual health and practices.  This is not the clergy’s sole responsibility.

I assure you, even most well cared for pastor’s soul cannot bear that burden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cultivate. Cherish. Protect.

Denise

Denise

by A. Denise Bell, Regional Minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Georgia

Cultivate, cherish, and protect your call to ministry.

It was one afternoon after a series of late night meetings, hospital visits, and yet another rote ministry function. I was exhausted, and unimpressed with the small group that hung behind to debrief the ministry event. From a deep place, I heard myself say, “Ministry to me has become like a faded love in a marriage that has waxed cold. I don’t love you anymore but I am not going anywhere.” I sensed in my spirit, the Holy Spirit saying, “Then leave, you do me no favors by staying.”

I was startled to think that I had become so numb and disconnected from my love of serving the church that I was just hanging on by a thread. I was shocked by the thought that if I did not deal with my condition, by default I would dismiss myself from a future of vital ministry. Fortunately, because of God’s grace, mercy and unconditional love, I was invited to participate in a Sustaining Pastoral Excellence Program. It saved my life and ministry. I fell in love again with God, the people of God, and the privilege to serve.

Joy unspeakable rules in my heart!

Somewhere in the midst of ministry, I forgot to cultivate, cherish, and protect my call to love and serve the Lord. We do God no favors, and in fact may cause damage to the people of God, when our active and engaging love for God and service waxes cold. We must learn and practice ways to continue to cultivate, cherish, and protect our call.

A call to ministry requires a lifetime of cultivating a deep love and joy for creating meaningful conversations and communities of faith. The never ceasing expectations and demands to pour into the lives of others can lead to a lonely and isolated life. The dynamics in ministry often require new approaches and insights that emerge by being in community with others. I had to avail myself so that others could pour into my life. I sought out authentic peer and mentor relationships. I endeavor now to grow deeper in the expressions of my faith by being a lifelong learner.

We must cherish our relationship with the Lord and our call to serve God’s people. I had to develop new habits so as not to allow the juggle of conflicting priorities to consume my life. Unchecked ministry boundaries can harm our relationship with the Lord. I now spend quality time with the Lord in prayer, reflection, and study. I consult the Lord in every situation and pull away often to refresh the joy of service. Our efficacy in ministry comes from God and not our own efforts. Through Christ we have unlimited access to the power of the Holy Spirit.

Lastly, I realized that I must protect the call. We protect the call by living a holy life. We must not fall prey to behaviors, the pressures of the world, or standards contrary to living a life worthy of the high calling of God. I must protect the call because I am indebted to the clergy who paved the way for me and kept the faith. Additionally, I am responsible to future clergy who will follow after my legacy. Moreover, I must protect the call on behalf of fellow clergy so as to model and strengthen our collective resolve to love Jesus and feed and care for the people of God until that day that we hear the Master’s voice saying, “Well done good and faithful servant!”

Being a minister is one of the most difficult jobs that one can have. That said, I believe that if you remember to cultivate, cherish and protect your call to ministry, it can be one of the most rewarding jobs. Granted, there will be times that it will be hard, but it will always be worthwhile!

What Keeps Me At It

Sharon

Sharon

by the Reverend Sharon Watkins, General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

The first time I recognized the lag was some time into pastoring my first congregation. The sermons were getting harder to germinate. The typical grousing of a family church – where the families did not always get along – was bothering me more than usual. I was starting to visualize ministry as fire-fighting on a burning roof with only burlap bags to beat off the flames of fire bursting out faster than I could jump.

Not healthy.

Three things made it better.

I figured out everyone was right. I really did need to pray. Daily.  “Everyone” was not right was in saying that prayer had to happen first thing in the morning, you know, give the best/first part of the day to God. I could not make that work. My small children had some sort of extra sensory hearing – meaning that no matter how quiet I was, I could not get out of bed quietly enough. If I was up, it was time for them to get up, too. Time for just God and me could not happen at or before dawn. Lunchtime became my prayer time. The kids were at day care. My husband was at school. The members of my church were out in the fields. Then, I went to the spare bedroom in the parsonage to pray. For me, it’s always been centering prayer – not too many words. Maybe I normally let too many things spin in my head. I worry too much, try to do too much. So centering myself on a repeated phrase – often a new one everyday – calms my spirit and makes room for me to connect with God’s Spirit always waiting for me. I need to pray. Daily.

I got back on my bike. Probably not everyone has a bike – at least not one that you ride anymore. But for me, a healthy spirit requires exercise at something I love – mostly outside. Without it I get depressed, and I don’t pray. The biking and the centering work together. Being outside helps. I remember my first times of deep, deep prayer at camp. Morning watch. We went outside alone, with Bible or study guide in hand and found a place to sit and pray. Those early mornings with the backdrop of insects whirring, the fields still sparkly with dew, the hay bales golden against green fields, were my first experience in centering, too, although I did not know or name it as that at the time. Being outside deepened the praying for me, helped me feel closer to God out in God’s world. Being on the bike does much the same.

And third, I got with peers. My spiritual health has always depended on finding a peer group. That first time, when my spirit was dry and my brain was empty, someone invited me to an ecumenical lectionary study group in town. The sermon ideas, spun out in conversation about the text helped, of course. But more than that, the camaraderie felt like spring. Since then I’ve mostly stumbled into peer groups, but they have restored my soul. A women’s clergy group reminded me often of God’s presence. While working for Phillips University and Seminary and in their D.Min. program, a requirement to find a peer group lifted me at another time of sinking. Back in congregational ministry, being part of a Bethany group taught me again to pray, even more deeply, in centering and silence over many hours, even days. And now, a heads of communion peer group provides an annual oasis of retreat for worship, silence, camaraderie and, yes, prayer.

Praying and riding and connecting spiritually with peers. When I do those three, my images of ministry are of joyful connecting: hands clasped, table set, lives restored – my life included.  

 

 

Surviving (Thriving) Advent, Part 2

by Dustin Hite, M. Div., 2010, Christian Theological Seminary, and Promise Road Campus Pastor, Geist Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Indianapolis, IN 

Dustin

Dustin

In our family, the Advent/Christmas season doesn’t officially begin until two things have happened:  (1) we decorate the Christmas tree—my children delicately placing the ornaments on various branches, and (2) the annual reading of Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree (a tradition that dates back to my early childhood days, sitting around the fire at my grandparents house).  Once these two events have taken place, I know Advent is officially here.  Yet, even before these sacred times, my vocational duty as a pastor during Advent has likely commenced, the rush from one event or meeting to the next furiously begun.

So, how can I find time for the holy amidst all the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season?  That’s a loaded question.  I’d like to say I’ve found the perfect way to balance my duties as a pastor with the needs of my family in remembering the true meaning of Christmas, but I’ve not always been that good at it.  In fact, most of the time, I’ve failed miserably.

And yet, I keep trying…and it’s in the trying where I find the holy.  Like when I try to ensure that my kids understand the season isn’t just about getting gifts, but about giving gifts, and not just material gifts, but the gifts of time, love, and care.  Or when I try to nurture time with my wife as we sit in the quietness of the late evening, our kids sleeping upstairs, letting out the deep exhale of a busy day.  There are also those moments when I try to simply sit, silent, awaiting the next moment of busyness, and using that moment to meditate, pray, and think.

The reason I focus so much on trying is that in pastoral work it becomes really easy to count all the ways, in the busy times (and Advent, if not a busy time, I don’t know what is), we’ve failed—our kids, our spouses/significant others, our friends, our congregations.  There are seemingly infinite ways in which we can let others down and only so much time to make sure we don’t.  So, for me, the simple act of trying is itself holy…and it’s not just during Advent that we need this reminder.

So what am I trying this year?  Well, every morning (um, honestly, “most” mornings would be more accurate) I’m trying to set aside 30 minutes to simply read and reflect. I’m working my way through a devotional, the main thought of which helps make real for me the notion of waiting during the Advent season.  With my family, we find little times to eat together, to laugh and play together, to search for a little elf that wreaks havoc on our home for the month of December, and simply connect with the joys of childhood during the Christmas season.

But, the holiest moment of the Advent season actually happens early on Christmas morning.  After the last Christmas Eve service has ended and long after the final family has made their way home, I’ll drive thirty minutes home in silence, finally able to breathe, and this typifies, for me, the holiness of the Advent season.  I’ll quietly sneak into a house where everyone else slowly slipped into their slumber long before my arrival and try to catch a few hours of sleep before my children rise (all too early) for the festivities of Christmas morning.  And as I sit with them, tired and sipping on a hot cup of coffee, I’ll know, yet again, that the one we call “Emmanuel” has truly been ‘God-with-me’ all along.

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The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) will assist those in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship will span the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister. The MLCI is a ministry of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in partnership with Lexington Theological Seminary.

The MLCI blog series, launched January 15, 2014, is designed to promote conversation surrounding issues related to clergy health and well-being. The blog seeks to include and incorporate writers from a wide variety of ministerial contexts, seminaries and demographics.

Surviving (Thriving) Advent, Part 1

By Rev. Dr. Mandye C. Yates
Minister, First Christian Church (DOC), New Castle, IN

profile pic

Mandye

How do I find room for the holy with myself and my family during the chaos of leading a congregation through Advent?

That’s a fantastic question! It is a conscious effort to find room for the holy most any time while doing full time ministry, but it’s especially difficult during the Advent season. Even though several committees and teams take a break from meetings during the month of December, there are tons of small group parties and special get-togethers to take their place, and that doesn’t even take into consideration all the special Christmas programs for the Church children and your own. Needless to say, trying to institute anything that involves scheduling in more time just isn’t going to work. So, instead, I try to weave in some of the things that feed my spirit into my everyday work and time at home.

I try to listen to music as often as possible. I love holiday music, all of it, from Bing Crosby to the new Pentatonix album. So, I try to listen to it when I’m in the car driving to a meeting or a hospital visit. I listen to it in my office when I’m working and writing and I put some earbuds in and listen to music while I’m lying in bed unwinding at night. I also try to take advantage of a beautifully decorated Sanctuary just down the hall from my office. I slip in a CD into the sound system and settle into a pew and look at lights for a bit, and breathe in the stillness and calm.

Which leads me to the next thing…I try to take time to myself in the middle of the day. I know I’m going to be working plenty of extra hours this month to make up for a little time to myself here and there. So, when I feel my heart racing, when I feel overwhelmed with my daily “to do” list, I take a little time to myself to breathe, pray, listen to music…center myself. I find that I am a better minister, mom and wife when I do.

I love food, so something else that nurtures my soul and connects me with the holy is baking. Most of my job involves something I do with my head: thinking, writing, listening and talking, so it is very satisfying and therapeutic even to do something with my hands. Baking is also something I can do with my children. We bake cookies for shut-ins and deliver them together. I can teach them Nanni’s recipes for Christmas tree cookies, get quality time with my kids and brighten a shut-in’s day all at the same time!

This leads me to the last thing, which I’ll admit I don’t do enough…exercise. God knows there’s not much time for going to the gym this month. Still, even if I find time to stretch in the morning or at night, or do a little Yoga in the office, it’s a great tension release and a wonderful time to center myself, breathe and connect with God. This is my humble list of things that help me maintain my sanity in this extremely insane time.

I pray you will find things that nurture your connection with the holy without adding more to your already packed “to do” lists. May God bless you and yours with plenty of hope, peace, joy and love during this wonderful season.


 

The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) will assist those in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship will span the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister. The MLCI is a ministry of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in partnership with Lexington Theological Seminary.

The MLCI blog series, launched January 15, 2014, is designed to promote conversation surrounding issues related to clergy health and well-being. The blog seeks to include and incorporate writers from a wide variety of ministerial contexts, seminaries and demographics.

Reverend Mama, Part 4 (Bread and Cupcakes)

The latest edition of the MLCI series seeks to incorporate the voices of those who are both “Reverend” and “Mommy.” There’s many of us out there, in a wide variety of contexts and each with our own celebrations and challenges. We are grateful to the three Disciples pastors who have volunteered to share their reflections with us for this particular discussion, and seek to honor each one’s story as that — HER story, and not necessarily a definitive statement on what it means to balance and live both ministry and motherhood.

Erin and her family

Erin and her family

by Rev. Erin Wathen, Senior Minister, St. Andrew Christian Church, Olathe, KS

Let me tell you about my weekend. It was full of cupcakes. And bread.

Saturday was my son’s 4th birthday. I woke up and made cinnamon rolls, of course. The kind from the can. I may have accidentally eaten one with him, in solidarity.

With my daughter’s birthday just two days hence, and mine the following week, we decided to make Saturday the official ‘Everyone’s Birthday Day.” So we went to the big city. We went to the aquarium, then out for lunch. The boy child had pancakes. The girl one had a fried pb&j. Then we went home for a low-key afternoon and the making of cupcakes. And the eating of cupcakes.

The ‘off-day,’ as we call that day between birthdays, was a Sunday: preach; new member class; a quick bite of coffee hour banana bread; preach again; break some more bread; ten-minute-conversation- turned-hour-long-meeting; dash home for the quick lunch of whatever; then back to church for an ordination.

And as ordinations go, was this ever a good one. It was the ordination of our longtime children’s minister. Packed house. Tears of joy. And in the laying on of hands, the children came first. Before the clergy, before the parents, before the elders, the children placed hands on their minister and called down the Holy Spirit.
Then of course, the newly-Reverend-ed broke some bread. And blessed it, and called it good.

And then there was cake. Barbecue and fruit and wine and more bread. And four kinds of cake.

I dragged home, happy but exhausted. Poured out in the way that you are after any day—or week, or year— full of ministry and motherhood.

I woke up Monday morning and made homemade strawberry muffins for my daughter’s kindergarten class, on the occasion of her 6th birthday. And then I stopped at the store—because I’d promised to take a green bean casserole to my other kid’s preschool for teacher appreciation lunch.

And then people, I went back to church. Back to the office where I think the thoughts, say the things, comfort the people and hope that I’ve got enough stamina to keep doing this, again and again and again.
And at the office I thought how, when I stopped at the store just then, I’d forgotten to pick up supplies to go home and make MORE birthday cupcakes…because it was still a birthday, after all. And I started to feel very tired.

And then I remembered: Leftovers! From that joyous ordination occasion the night before, there were two boxes, filled with cake, upon cake, upon cake. And all I had to do was wrap up a few pieces to take home. I had only to stick a candle in it, and call it good.

I could reflect back upon that weekend and say, how sad… I have a busy weekend of ministry, and my children get the leftovers. The crumbs. Or—in the blessed or–I can look back over that weekend and say this: My ministry to others also feeds my children. It’s not just that it puts bread on their table—although it does— but that it provides them a blessed community. The sweetness of shared work and word, and a place in a bigger story.

I am not taking home “leftovers.” I am remembering that I don’t have to bake every cake. I don’t have to break every loaf of bread, or say all the words, or care for the people all on my own. I am part of the body of Christ—and, because I nurture that body, so are my children. They are loved and cared for by many. They are welcomed and wanted. They are healthy, and well-fed and whole.

Taste and see that God is good. In broken bread, in homemade muffins, in leftovers shared and passed around the table, we have enough. We ARE enough. Thanks be to God.

Reverend Mama, Part 3 (Dena’s Eyes Sparkle)

The latest edition of the MLCI series seeks to incorporate the voices of those who are both “Reverend” and “Mommy.” There’s many of us out there, in a wide variety of contexts and each with our own celebrations and challenges. We are grateful to the three Disciples pastors who have volunteered to share their reflections with us for this particular discussion, and seek to honor each one’s story as that — HER story, and not necessarily a definitive statement on what it means to balance and live both ministry and motherhood.

Dena and Charlie

Dena and Charlie

by the Reverend Kelli Driscoll, Pastor, Bethany Christian Church, Tulsa, OK

Dena’s eyes sparkle. Nope, there isn’t any glittery eye shadow or mascara. Dena’s eyes sparkle with the joy of life well-lived for 105 years. And I knew that when I had my baby, she needed to meet Dena Fate, the adventurous woman who is now limited to her living facility where nurses are available full time.

When I first came to Bethany, the Fate family introduced me to Dena, their mother-in-law, grandmother, great-grandmother and great-great grandmother. Dena’s tenacity for life is difficult to explain without telling stories.

On one visit, Dena had on her high school class ring. She still had it! She told me about being a nanny for a couple families during that time to support her family during the depression. That was just the beginning of working hard. Dena decided to learn to play the piano in her eighties. She took lessons, practiced, and loved playing on her baby grand, now situated at the end of the hall in a sunroom on her floor. Dena took road trip adventures with her girlfriends and husband, Gene. She and Gene were the first baptized at Bethany. And when the elders take her communion these days, she really prefers for them to bring the wine rather than the grape juice.

On the day I took Charlie, my daughter, to visit Dena, I was unsure as to what it would be like. Dena’s health is failing and there was a possibility she would simply be sleeping or wouldn’t know me. Once Dena spotted the baby, she perked up and we talked a little. Then came time for Dena to hold Charlie. We stopped talking. Dena marveled at Charlie, this tiny eight-week old baby. I marveled at Dena’s enamored gaze. It was this holy moment where time didn’t matter. The oldest member of Bethany and the youngest became the Psalmist’s words alive. “One generation shall laud your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.” (Psalm 145:4) I saw the mighty act of God’s incredible creation in those moments. I saw love that surpasses what we understand, particularly with life’s imposing limitations like age, frailty and language.

This is just one gift of being a minister-mama. It’s one gift of the life of community called a congregation. It’s not just the gift my family gets to experience, but certainly we know it in depth. Charlie has a gaggle of church grandmas and grandpas, people whose lives are rich with stories, lessons, and truth-sharing. We walk into a room and I know she is loved. Eventually, Charlie will see that herself. She may know it already, just at three months. As she grows, there are more moments awaiting us and women and men whose adventures she needs to know. For in their journeys and living awaits an opportunity to learn and discover who God made her to be.

There is no doubt that learning to juggle these simultaneous callings is difficult. Yet, it is worth it. I am fully minister, fully mama, fully me when I respond to be them all. Charlie, my husband, Nick, and I are surrounded by a community that wants us to thrive and is committed to helping us live life well.  With their help and examples, we hope to be parents that instill in Charlie a love of life and people. I pray that her eyes sparkle decades from now with awe at God’s creation. Perhaps, even, she’ll take piano lessons at eighty.

Reverend Mama, Part 2 (Reverend Cara Gilger)

The latest edition of the MLCI series seeks to incorporate the voices of those who are both “Reverend” and “Mommy.” There’s many of us out there, in a wide variety of contexts and each with our own celebrations and challenges. We are grateful to the three Disciples pastors who have volunteered to share their reflections with us for this particular discussion, and seek to honor each one’s story as that — HER story, and not necessarily a definitive statement on what it means to balance and live both ministry and motherhood.

Rev. Cara Gilger and her husband Tim live with their two daughters Adelaide (3 ½ years) and Everly (4 months) in McKinney, Texas where Cara serves First Christian Church. Cara is a Vanderbilt Divinity School class of 2008 alum.

Rev. Cara Gilger and her husband Tim live with their two daughters Adelaide (3 ½ years) and Everly (4 months) in McKinney, Texas where Cara serves First Christian Church. Cara is a Vanderbilt Divinity School class of 2008 alum.

What makes ministry and motherhood uniquely different than working and motherhood? This is the question that I have kicked around for weeks, while, standing at my kitchen counter making lunches, while sitting in worship singing the Doxology, returning e-mails.

What makes this life in ministry uniquely different for my family and for me as a mother than the mother who sits in the third pew from the back and practices law or the mom who teaches second grade? In many ways there is not much of a difference. I mean, I shuffle childcare, albeit with probably more nights and weekends than my corporate ladder climbing sisters. I worry about getting enough time with my daughters. I worry about missing my youngest’s milestones and meal planning is my best friend for nightly home-cooked meals.

The truth is that most of the time the things that set my life in ministry apart from other vocations are a blessing to my family.

My children are not only welcomed but wanted at the church where I serve. My eldest daughter attends pre-school at the church and I can pop my head in to see what she’s up to at any point during the day—try finding that anywhere but select companies like Google. My youngest, when she is not busy charming the church nursery staff, is being passed knee to neck by church grandmas.

There is a rhythm to ministry that makes this odd and wondrous calling of congregational life and motherhood a unique blend of beauty and chaos, humor and grace. Evening meetings can make meals hard and bedtimes a full on invitation for a full family melt down. The law of probability means that with as often as my children are at church, chances are they will have moments where they make poor choices and I have to parent—and we will both do it on display. There is no other time that really epitomizes the uniqueness of ministry and motherhood more than Advent. While the rest of the parenting world is gearing up with magical moments and special crafts and outings, my family is stream-lining the schedule, spending nights in the church nursery, or Sunday school party-hopping. On Christmas Eve when other families are spending time together, I leave my willing and capable spouse to lead our daughters through baking cookies for Santa while I pull a marathon day and evening. It is in Advent that I am most sharply aware that motherhood and ministry in some ways operate on a different time that the rest of the parenting world.

Because of this, here is what I have decided—I am an awesome ordinary time mom. Ordinary time makes up the bulk of the church calendar, it is the rhythm and rhyme that orders the rest of the year, that brings stability and rest and presence to the rest of the year. Mothering in ministry has allowed me the opportunity to cut out on a random Tuesday afternoon to take my girls for ice cream or take a school holiday off to lay around the house in pj’s and watch princess movies because I have the flexibility and comp-time to do it.

Ordinary time is the time for building relationships. We know that if you attend church during special seasons your spirit may be fed by worship or special programing, but it doesn’t give the opportunity to build the relationships that sustain. Ministry and motherhood have gifted my family and children with the time that cultivates depth in relationships. My daughters already have people who care for them and for their spirits in remarkable ways. And for that I am grateful.

And finally, there’s this: When I showed up to lead my first Women’s Prayer Breakfast after maternity leave, and my oldest was still wearing pajamas, and my youngest proceeded to spit up in quantity I had yet to see and have never seen again, all I received were hands to dig in diaper bags, words of assurance, arms to console kids and change baby clothes.