Thursday, September 21, 2006

Weasel Wranger!

Earlier this week I attended a program led by my friend and Divinity School-era classmate Larry Peers, who edited the UUA Congregational Handbook when he worked at 25 Beacon Street, and is now a full-time consultant for the prestigious Alban Institute. Larry is one of the smartest guys I know, and superb at what he does; every time I hear him speak I learn something new and thought provoking, and I’ve never been disappointed.

This time the theme of Larry’s workshop was “Juggling Roles as Leader, Minister, Supervisor, Human...and Miracle Worker.” One of the exercises was to brainstorm a list of the various roles clergy play in the performance of their duties. Here’s the list I came up with (some of them metaphorical), with a little help from peaking at the papers of the other ministers sitting around me.

Preacher, Teacher, Pastor, Leader, Writer, Performer, Caregiver, Coach, Student, Scholar, Historian, Storyteller, Advocate, Mentor, Mediator, Negotiator, Entrepreneur, Peacemaker, Prophet, Priest, Rabbi, Chaplain, Sage, Mystic, Poet, Pilgrim, Spiritual Seeker, Spiritual Guide, Visionary, Organizer, Manager, Long Range Planner, Professional Expert, Organizational Consultant, Institutional Memory, Personal Companion, Partner, Parent, Trusted Friend, Philosophical Gadfly, Administrator, “Boss,” Strategist, Facilitator, Fundraiser, Expeditor, Supervisor, Servant, Shepherd, "Sheep Dog," Master & Commander, Major Idiot, Skipper, Experimenter, Analyst, Observer, Pundit, Critic, Counselor, Motivator, Devil’s Advocate, Wise Fool, Court Jester, Plucky Comic Relief, Medic, Personal Trainer, Baby Sitter, Dog Walker, Cat Herder, Snake Charmer, Duck Aligner, Weasel Wrangler, Chef, Gardener, Fisherman, Firefighter, Dishwasher, Custodian, Repairman, Jack-of-all-Trades, Quarterback, Point Guard, Relief Pitcher, Cheerleader, Pinch Hitter, Lead-off Hitter, Clean-up Hitter, Catcher, Center Fielder, Utility Infielder, Free Safety, Placekicker, Punt Returner, Bench Warmer, Water Boy, Umpire, Groundskeeper... and, of course, Juggler and Miracle Worker (which Larry gave us right in the title of the workshop).

Larry encouraged us to think of these various roles as a “team of players” which we can call upon as needed in order to help us do our jobs. Of course, as coach and general manager of this motley team, my first question was: How am I going to find enough playing time for everybody on my roster? Who do I put in the starting line-up, and who do I leave on the sidelines? Who is first out of the bullpen; who’s missing from my team entirely; and who do I need to trade, waive, send down to the minors for more experience, or cut outright? I don’t really have answers to these questions. But Larry certainly did provide an intriguingly different perspective on this complex and fascinating vocation.

Of course, this exercise isn’t restricted to ministers only. No matter what you do for a living, what kind of roles do you play in your life, and what kind of players do you need on your team in order to take yourself to the next level? Be creative; think outside the box. You may discover you have a lot deeper bench than you think.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Pink Martini

Almost ten years ago now I officiated at a large wedding in a private home in Portland's affluent Dunthorpe neighborhood. The processional was performed by Gavin Bondy, a trumpet player for the Oregon Symphony, and afterwards the rest of the band showed up to play the reception. And I've been a big fan of Pink Martini ever since. Won't even try to put into words who they are or what they do -- they are simply amazing, and if you've never heard them you are really missing something.

Sunday night I saw them perform for the first time since I moved away from Portland Oregon five years ago. Four rows back on the left hand side, and both the seats and the band were magnificent! Probably their best show I've seen yet, and I've seen a lot...more times really than I can even remember. Benefits and fundraisers, a private Christmas party, the "Taste of Beaverton" (where gay pianist/band founder Thomas Lauderdale made a quip about "the taste of beaver" and his Harvard classmate/vocalist China Forbes unforgettably replied "What would you know about it?") and, of course, the debut concert for their first CD "Sympathique" at "the Schnitz" -- Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in downtown Portland. And since Thomas lives just across the street from My Former Wife's law office in downtown Portland, I've often heard him practicing at home, and even seen him out walking his dog Heinz on Yamhill Street.

Of course, now that they've hit the "big time" (such as it is), Pink Martini doesn't play weddings any more. And I do miss some of the people who've left the band: Miss Khilmony Downs, in particular, who, though not quite as strong a singer as China Forbes, still had a certain stage appeal that endeared me to the band in its early days. Pepe Raphael has gone on to form his own band, Pepe and the Bottle Blondes, and apparently they still do play wedding gigs. The band is actually much stronger, tighter and more focused now that China has really come into her own on stage, while Timothy Nishimoto (Pepe's replacement) does a solid job in a much more limited vocal role. The original percussionists Brian Davis and Derek Rieth, along with guitarist Dan Faehnle, are a huge part of the band's unique sound, the brass and the strings are strong (with Gavin's outstanding trumpet a familiar anchor), and Thomas M. Lauderdale is simply brilliant, magnificent, remarkable, and incomparable. Pink Martini is really his baby and his brainchild, now twelve years old and going strong. Check out their website, buy their albums, see them perform live and go home with a tee-shirt.

Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11 + 5

Five years ago today, I was sitting in the small, downstairs study in the parsonage on Nantucket Island, shopping on-line for a new coffee grinder. I'd only been on-Island for a few weeks, and was still settling in to my interim ministry there. Then the phone rang, and a few seconds later I was upstairs watching TV while the whole world changed before my eyes.

I don't have anything uniquely profound or insightful to contribute to what I'm sure will be an animated dialog regarding our national experience in the five years since that day. The President has vowed that he will never forget the lessons of 9/11, but personally I wonder whether he has learned anything at all. He also cautions us not to underestimate (or was it misunderestimate?) the "intentions of evil and ambition men." And that is advice I will certainly take to heart.

Yesterday in church, I quoted a portion of the sermon I delivered on Nantucket the Sunday following September 11, 2001. That Sunday, and the Sundays following it, represent some of the most prophetic preaching I've been called to do in 25 years of ordained ministry. If you're interested, you can find the texts of all those sermons at my Nantucket blogspot site The text of yesterday's sermon should appear at in another day or two.

And let us all attempt to be gentle with one another today.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

More Advice to Ministers in Search

Dan Harper at "Just Another Unitarian Universalist" offers good advice to ministers in search in the UUA. As someone who spent nearly a decade technically "in search" (albeit with a pretty profound geographic restriction) I'll second Dan’s field tested advice, and would like to add a few insights of my own.

• When I started out, I spent a lot of time trying to make my materials look different from everyone else's, on the theory that this would make them stand out. Eventually, I discovered it was much more effective to make my materials look exactly like everyone else's, only better -- which made ME appear outstanding.

• Even while you are "in transition," don't pass up opportunities to build your resume...and your reputation. Do the supply preaching gigs and the outside many as you can schedule. Consult with small churches. Network with other ministers to offer Adult RE classes to their congregations (trust me, they'll love you for it). Don't worry so much about getting paid at it for love, and the money will follow. I earned a PhD while technically in search, and helped half-a-dozen different small congregations settle full or part-time ministers and/or build or buy new buildings. Not such a bad track record for a full time grad student looking for a full-time job...and good for the movement too.

• Ministry is both a calling and a career. The issue is not which takes priority, but rather how best to keep them in alignment. I know too many colleagues who seem to feel that the real mission of the church is to provide them with a paycheck. It's not, so get over it. The question congregations will be asking you is this: What can you do for us to make our SPIRITUAL lives more satisfying? All of this business about growing the church by increasing membership, attendance and the amount of the average pledge means a whole lot less to them than it does to us. If you really want to know what people are looking for in a pastor, check out this report from Duke. Plenty to chew on there, not all of it especially appetizing:

• Finally, don't try to hide from your mistakes, or hide them from Search Committees. Rather, look at them closely, figure out what you *really* learned from them, and turn that "lesson" into a positive selling point. Let's face facts: ministry isn't that difficult a job, but it is an Impossible one. None of us will EVER do it perfectly, meet every expectation or even every need, land on our feet (rather than flat on our face) every time. Ministry is the kind of work that will take everything we have to offer without it ever really being enough...and yet somehow we manage to do it anyway. Search Committees are generally a lot less interested in what you can DO than in who you ARE. Character, candor, compassion, integrity, authenticity and real spiritual "depth" -- these are the things that churches truly want and need from their Religious Leader. So don't try to fake it: FIND IT!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Ingathering Sunday

Here at FRS, we've developed a practice of sending out a congregation-wide mailing at the beginning of September, welcoming people back to church. The mailing includes a letter from the Parish Committee describing the program priorities for the coming year (which individual parish committee members divide among themselves in order to include a handwritten postscript) and a more "inspirational" letter from the minister (me). Here's the text of my letter for 2006-07, which I've made generic so that anyone who would like to can feel free to "borrow" my words (with appropriate attribution, of course).


What is Church, anyway?

Some folks think of a church as a building: a physical structure of bricks and mortar, wood and glass, standing tall as a visible landmark in the landscape of a larger community.

Others think of church principally as a religious institution: an organization with principles and purposes, policies and by-laws, and charged with the mission of doing God’s work in the world.

Theologians sometimes speak of “the Church” as a mystical body of believers: a spiritual community of faith, memory and hope which transcends the boundaries and limitations of time and space.

But when I think of church, I think of the people. Real people, like you and me, who inhabit the building, who embody the spirit, who do God’s good works with their own two hands.

This congregation is a spiritual community of real people devoted to values and principles larger than ourselves. And it takes the combined efforts of each and every one of us to make our faith community everything it should be.

If your experience of organized religion hasn't quite lived up to what you’d hoped for, the answer may be simpler than you think. It may well be that the only thing missing from this CH_RCH is U.

Welcome back from what I hope has been a refreshing and relaxing summer. I look forward to seeing you Sunday!