Wednesday, December 18, 2013

It's pronounced "Paass-tore"

I admit I have an ambivalent relationship with the use of honorifics. There ... I said it. The first time I was called "ma'am," I was 18 years old and working as a florist. I turned around to see who this girl was talking to ... and I was the only one in the shop. It was weird.

When I got married and first had someone call me "Mrs. Scarborough," I did the same thing. I turned around to see if my mother-in-law had walked into the room behind me. She wasn't there, for the record.Later, when I had children, I became "Mrs. _________'s Mom." First it was "Mrs. Claire's Mom" then it was "Mrs. Erin's Mom." You kind of forfeit any personal identity when it comes to your kids - their peers know them, and you become "Mrs. _________'s Mom."

Then I finally gave into God's call to the priesthood. It took 26 years for me to say "yes." Remember, I'm old enough to have grown up when this was not an option because of my chromosomal configuration. I just thought God was nuts. Apparently, either God is nuts or I'm really supposed to do this. Some are still betting on the former and I get plenty of "feedback" from folks in that camp regularly. Fortunately, the congregation I serve and our denomination is betting on door #2 ... and so far, so good.

People still do not know what to do with women in collars. Not only do they not know what to call us, many doubt we are even really ordained. My colleague Diane, who is an ELCA pastor in Connecticut, was balled out by a woman a few weeks ago when she pulled up to the hospital on her Harley-Davidson and parked in the clergy spot to make a pastoral call. She unzipped her leathers to show her collar. The woman was unimpressed and said anybody could wear a collar. Diane proceeded to show her the Communion kit in her saddlebag - again the woman was nonplussed. Diane then showed her the ELCA roster card in her wallet identifying her as a duly ordained pastor in the ELCA. Finally, the woman relented and apologized. I wonder if my friend would have received this kind of third degree had she been male? While we can't argue the negative, I do believe the accosting party would have likely backed down at the clerical attire had it been on a man riding a Harley.

The doubt of our "legit-ness" extends into what to call me. After 35 years of ordaining women, we still get the, "What do we call you?" question. When I'm feeling particularly snarky, my response is, "Isn't it obvious? 'Your Majesty' will suffice." I even offer to let them kiss one of my rings for good measure ... you know, to get the full effect. I have people call me "Mother Scarborough" or "Pastor Scarborough" and that's fine ... especially when we don't know each other well. Kind of a common courtesy like calling someone "Mr.," "Mrs.," or "Ms." when you don't know them well. If people know me, I'm good with being called by my baptismal name. It's worked well for 49 years, I see no need to give it up now. But some people just don't know what to do with me ... like the bride whose family were members of our congregation a long time ago who wanted to rent the church for her wedding - her Baptist (male, of course) pastor would be officiating. I've only been in the congregation 2 years, so this is new territory for me. In the past week, I've had two occasions to speak to this young woman on the phone ... and yes, she is young enough to be my daughter. She left a voice mail message last week and when I called her back, she said, "Hi Sweetie, how are you?" I was so shocked I wasn't quite sure if I heard her correctly. I responded, "Excuse me?!" She rephrased the question without the "sweetie" reference. I let it slide that time and wrote it off to a slip of the lip.

But ... it happened again this week. I placed a call to her and after identifying myself she responded, "Oh hi! How are you sweetie?" My internal voice wanted to scream, "It's pronounced PAASS - TORE not SWEE-TEE!" but ... I asked her calmly, "Excuse me, but did you just call me 'Sweetie'?" She replied nonchalantly, "Yes." ... Yes ... as if there is absolutely nothing wrong with calling someone you do not know "sweetie." Really?

I took a deep breath and said, "That is a term of endearment which is only appropriate for my family members to use when addressing me. I expect you to call me 'Pastor Scarborough.' Have I made myself clear?" Apparently, this rattled her cage and she was quite clipped in her response of "Yes, ma'am" and her additional responses to my questions.

About 20 minutes after this conversation, she called me back to apologize and told me she meant no offense. I accepted her apology and let her know that I sensed this was a habit she had but one I strongly suggest she needs to check as calling a person you do not know "sweetie" is disrespectful regardless of whether you meant it disrespectfully or not. I asked her if she addressed her own (male) pastor as "sweetie." She said, "No." I gently told her that if it isn't ok to address a male pastor as "sweetie," it's not ok to say it to a female pastor either.

Chalk it up to a teaching moment ... but knowing this bride is young enough to be my daughter is troubling. It breaks my heart that we are still having to address double-standards about respect for clergy. In both of these cases, the female clergy were confronted by women! It is is a patriarchal hang-over to speak respectfully to male clergy and give them the benefit of the doubt while not extending the same courtesy to women clergy. Admittedly, there are many people who do treat us as respectfully as they do our male counterparts and the numbers are growing. But for the record, regardless of chromosomal configurations, it's pronounced "Pass - tore" ...or "Your Ma-jes-ty." I'll answer to either.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Consumerism in the Church

My colleague Fr. Tim Schenck from St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church in Hingham, MA (and possibly better known for originating Lent Madness), wrote a blog post today entitled "Want Fries With That?" In it, he addresses the creeping problem of the consumerism in our culture infecting how we view Church and the clergy who serve her.

Some have misconstrued this as a rehashing of east-facing versus west-facing altars of the liturgical renewal movement. Regardless of how the clergy is situated when saying the Eucharistic prayer, facing the congregation has had the unintended consequence of crashing into the blatant consumerism with which our culture is saturated.

Personally, I wouldn't change facing the congregation at the altar. I do believe Tim+ has appropriately raised the awareness that our posture can be misunderstood or overlaid with other meanings brought in from the world and the deleterious effects it can have on how we understand ourselves as the Church.

We are not purveyors of religious goods and services. We are the Body of Christ and as such a community centered on Christ first and foremost. Priests are not "sacramental Pez dispensers" who exist to dole out baptisms, weddings and funerals on demand. We are called to the cure of souls and to bring the presence of Christ to the gathered community through the sacraments.

When we view the Church solely as the place we go to "be fed," the focus ceases to be on God and it turns towards us. It becomes what we want and whether we are fed and whether or not our needs are met. What if, it's really not about us? What if it starts and ends in God? And what if this God has invited us into greater, more intimate, loving participation with God and each other in this community of faith?

This isn't to say we don't spend time discerning the community to which God may be calling us - the place where our gifts and graces can make a difference in the life of the Church. But note the focus is less about getting what I want or need, but where I can contribute toward the communal life of the risen Christ. The first approach is focused on me ... the second is on thee. Advent seems the appropriate time to reflect on our focus - is it on me, or thee?

Oh ... and I'm with Tim+ ... I will take fries with that too!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

"not biblically backed" and "not proved to help the Church"

The Church of the Province of Central Africa (Anglican) has rejected ordaining women at its recent synod meeting. According to Bishop of Northern Malawi, the Rt Revd Fanuel Magangani:
“One person ordained in one diocese may get rejected in another thereby compromising the collegiality of the Province. ... The ordination of women is not biblically backed and has also not proved to help the Church since inception in the 70s.”
Really? There's so much misinformation in this statement that I can hardly believe this bishop ever made it through seminary, let alone become a bishop. Let's unpack this statement point by point:


Collegiality among clergy is important; however, it lacks ultimate importance. This Gospel is of ultimate importance. Collegiality is nice and to claim that somehow women will "compromise" it is foolishness. Women have been spreading the Gospel for 2,000 years and were the first witnesses to the resurrection. Did the fact that our risen Lord began his revelation of resurrection power to women and entrust that message to them compromise the collegiality of the male disciples? I think not. Did the fact that Phoebe of Cenchrea, a deaconess in the first century Church there, delivered Paul's letter to the Romans compromise that church's collegiality? I think not.

Florence Li Tim-Oi was the first Anglican woman to be ordained priest in the 1940's to serve as a priest in Macau during the Japanese occupation in WWII. She gracefully resigned her license (but not her priestly ordination) at the end of the war and in 1971, when Hong Kong ordained two more women, her license was reinstated. Recently, the Windsor Report discussed how women's ordination was handled throughout the Anglican Communion and how we could move forward even when collegiality is impaired.

When we make collegiality more important than recognizing the Spirit's outpouring of gifts and graces on women (and LGBT persons too), we raise collegiality up has having ultimate importance - and this is idolatry. Christ and the Gospel have ultimate importance. Collegiality is nice ... but is not requisite for salvation.

Not biblically backed

If we get down to it, no ordination is "biblically backed." Jesus never ordained anyone. Care to show me in the Bible where he did? I'm waiting ... and hearing nothing but crickets.

In my tradition, Holy Orders is a sacrament - an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. Yes, Jesus called twelve male disciples. On this we can agree. But none of them was ordained in the sense that we understand this sacrament today. Jesus also had many women following him, some of whom were bankrolling his operation (see Luke 8:3). It was women who were the first to witness the resurrection and to share its good news. Women were prominent leaders in the churches which received letters from Paul. Read the end of Romans, 1st & 2nd Corinthians and notice all of the female names Paul mentions! If these women were not Spirit filled leaders, what exactly were they? And they are all mentioned in the Bible ... yes, biblically backed indeed.

Not proved to help the church

First, the idea that the inception of ordaining women dates to the 1970's is ridiculous. The aforementioned Li Tim-Oi notwithstanding, other branches of the Christian family have been ordaining women in this country since the mid-19th century. And if we include all the women who worked with Paul ... well now we're going back to the '50's ... I mean as in 50 A.D.

And so we have not "proved to help the church" ... really? I daresay those Anglicans who received the sacraments from Florence Li Tim-Oi were helped when they were under occupation (and they kept the church going in Macau with her help). I know of many churches in redevelopment where women have entered as their priests to heal conflicts, provide the sacraments, and are now growing vibrant congregations. I would love to invite Bishop Magangani to come to where I serve at Grace Church in Brunswick MD - a church which in 2 years time has gone from having 15-18 people in worship on any given Sunday to a worshiping community of 60+ who are actively engaging the gospel in our community and the world.

But this is Africa. They are more conservative.

One might argue for the cultural context to be considered here. After all, Central Africa's countries are "more conservative" than the United States. Well, to say Africa is a monolithic entity is false. The Bishop of Chad made the motion to allow women's ordination. There are provinces ready to affirm the gifts and graces of women ... and they are being spiritually impoverished in order to protect "collegiality," a faulty biblical interpretation, and the completely false assertion that the church has not been "helped" by women clergy.

And it isn't just in Africa ...

On November 13, 2013 Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber of the House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver was excoriated on Twitter as an "unsanctified mess belonging to an "unbiblical office." Rachel Held Evans pointed out that a recent evangelical Christian conference only had four women speakers out of a roster of over 100 male speakers - she was denounced as "divisive." We'd like to think that we are more progressive than our sisters and brothers in Africa, but we are not. As a woman priest, I know I cannot serve throughout the Anglican Communion like my male colleagues can. There are those (both male and female) who still question the validity of my Orders strictly because I don't have a "Y" chromosome ... or as Pastor Nadia said they think in order to "be like Jesus, we have to pee like Jesus."

I pray for my sisters and brothers in Central Africa. I pray for those here who still cannot see the gifts of leadership bestowed by Christ on women for the benefit of his Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Learning the dance

Mom sent me to Miss Vernetta's Dance Studio when I was four. I couldn't walk across a room without crashing into something at that age. Mom figured Miss Vernetta (and I studied under her) could teach me tap and ballet so I'd be a little less klutzy. I'm not so sure it worked ... but I did have my moment of playing Shirley Temple (at least in my mind) when I danced at the San Diego County Fair in 1970.

Beloved Husband and I have tried to do some basic ballroom dancing. I suck at it. I'd probably be better at it if I didn't try to lead. I know that must come as quite a shock for those of you who know me ... OK, you don't really have to fake the astonishment ... it's more like a page out of the Book of DUH! I really do like dancing. Really ... even when I really suck at it. I don't know why because sometimes it feels so alien.

The same is true of music. I play guitar ... kind of. As a "lefty" it was hard to find teachers. I don't play that often and I really don't have a natural talent for it. I love music and I play from time to time but I have to work at it. Mostly I sing. That I can do ... but I still have to work at it.

The same is true of worship for me. I love the liturgy of the Episcopal Church, but it's not easy. Learning it takes some work and, well, hanging out with it. When new people come to Grace Church, we hand them a bulletin and then they sit in a pew with two books in the rack in front of them: a red book with a cross on the cover and a blue book that says "The Hymnal 1982." Bulletins ... prayer books ... and hymnals ... OH MY! And, we ask you to juggle them in varying configurations while standing, sitting and kneeling.

As my oldest daughter used to say when she was four: "Oh MAN!!" It's complicated at one level ... like learning a dance and you feel awkward at first. Or learning that fingering run and thinking you'll never get it. Or learning a new mad skill in soccer and falling on your face a few times (or maybe a lot of times).

There is always talk in the church about how to make our worship "more seeker friendly" or "more approachable." I think this is a constant question we need to be asking to prevent the church from becoming an "insider club" of those who are in the know and those who are not. However, I think we can make a terrible mistake in assuming that visitors and newcomers are actually put off by our "Episcopal aerobics." There are people who are drawn to our liturgy and want to learn it like they might want to learn to dance or play an instrument.

"Insiders" can tend to make assumptions that because our liturgy can be challenging it somehow equates to meaning that newcomers can't figure it out and we are driving people away from the Church. I'm not sure this is a valid conclusion. What if newcomers are challenged but drawn to learning about the liturgy? What if they are inspired to learn more about it because it is a bit complicated?

Too many times, I've seen churches print absolutely every word and every note of every music score in a bulletin each week (and burning through a lot of paper) in an attempt to be more "seeker friendly." But instead of pre-digesting the liturgy into a more "accessible form," what would it look like if we gave better "stage directions" in our bulletins, be more clear about how to find hymns and service music, put bookmarks into our prayer books and hymnals, and yes ... even put pauses into our liturgy and listen for the rustling of books to calm down as people find the page before speaking a word of the liturgy?

I'd love to hear from people new to the "dance." What brought you into a liturgical church? What was challenging for you about the worship? What was easy? Was the challenge of liturgy off-putting? Did you stay ... or did you go? If you stayed, what was it that kept you coming?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Baptism is not a commodity

I confess I am astounded by some ideas people have about the church and religion in general. I'm not talking about the agnostic/atheist crowd who reject God and religion. I actually get along with them really well. I don't shove my faith down their throats and we often find common ground on social justice and ethical issues.

My real conundrum is with nominal Christians: those folks who say they are Christian but if you put them on trial for it, you'd never have enough evidence to convict them. These are generally folks who will say things like, "I can be a good Christian and not go to church." Basically, they want Jesus when it conveniences them and they really don't want to give up anything to be a disciple. I think of this as "consumerist Christianity."

Basically, these folks reduce faith and religion to a commodity which they feel they can demand from the Church. Nowhere is this more evident than when they have children and the question of baptism arises. It's about this time that they view me and the Church as the purveyor of religious goods and services who will, of course, baptize their kid no questions asked and no demands made.

Last year, I had someone email me on a Tuesday telling me they wanted their daughter baptized on Sunday ... yes, THAT Sunday ... because Grace was the father's childhood church and he wanted his children baptized there. Mind you, this was not an email asking me about what baptism would entail: it was an email demanding their daughter be baptized on that day because that's when they could get the family together. I responded by telling him I wanted to meet with him and his wife. Thankfully, he agreed to a face to face meeting. During that meeting, I showed them the Book of Common Prayer and the vows they made to raise their child in the Christian faith and life. I asked them how they were doing with that vow since they had made it just one year earlier for their oldest daughter. They admitted they were not living into it at all. I asked, "Why not?" They told me they hadn't found a church home close to where they lived.

I explained to them that I don't baptize children whose parents do not take them to church. It's pointless. For all the good it will do, you might as well put your child in the inflatable kiddie pool and squirt them with the hose three times. I suggested they start attending a local Episcopal Church near their home and gave them the contact information. I told them I would be willing to baptize their daughter once they became involved in a worshiping community. They called me back in four months, after getting involved in this local church, and I was delighted to baptize their daughter ... and transfer their memberships to their local church.

Baptism is about joining the Church and committing yourself to being a part of a worshiping community where you can learn to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. It's about personal transformation, but we believe this happens within community, not as a solitary enterprise. Baptism is personal - but it is not private! It concerns the whole community gathered who commit to helping you grow into the full stature of Christ. We, the Church, baptize people into the Body of Christ - and at baptism, the individual "me" becomes part of a much bigger "we" known as the Church.

Some things are not commodities. Baptism isn't a commodity. It is a call from Jesus Christ to take up your cross and follow him - which means dying to self and making sacrifices. Jesus makes demands on his disciples. He didn't say to James and John, "Follow me when it's convenient for you" or "Follow me if you have nothing else more interesting to do."

Too many nominal "Christians" think that being a disciple of Jesus is like some sort of a la carte menu where you can pick and choose at your convenience when and where to follow Jesus. They believe they can have their own private belief in Jesus divorced from a community and being a part of the Church is something you do if you want to ... or not ... and baptism is a reason to get together to have a party for your baby. That isn't Christianity - it's consumerism wrapped around a cross. To be a real Christian, you need to nail your consumerism to the cross. It needs to die so that you can really live.

Baptism demands something of you. It's not yours to demand on your terms because it's not cheap grace.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Changing perspective

Wow! It must look like I dropped off the face of the earth to the three people who actually read this blog. Fear not ... still here and it's now been two years since I've come to Grace Church in Brunswick and they still want me to stay with them. I'm blessed.

It's been a year of changing perspectives. Priestly lore is that the second year of ministry is when the proverbial "poo" hits the fan. Something's going to happen. There will be a crisis. It may be a little one or a big one, or some series or combination of both ... but it will happen.

My year began with a deep loss when one of our confirmation class members took her own life after a long struggle with bipolar disorder. I learned about St. Dymphna, patron saint of those with mental illness, from her. Her life and death had a profound impact on our little community. It helped some of our members who also struggle with mood disorders to reevaluate how they attend to their own wellness and medication regiments. It was painful for spouses, partners and friends to see what can happen when a person doesn't respond to treatment. It was a reminder that no matter the circumstances of our lives, God is present: even in suffering, even through death ... and that death isn't the last word. Two new families came the morning I had to announce her death ... and they stayed because they saw how our community responded and how we loved each other through it. That's grace.

Ash Wednesday ...

Ashes to Go at the MARC. Meeting Jennie ... getting to know her ... helping her prepare over the next few months for her death from breast cancer leaving behind a husband and two teenage kids.

Holy Week isn't always "holy" for clergy. We have a few other nicknames for it ... I'll leave that to your imagination. Just before Holy Week, Beloved Husband's brother took ill with an upper respiratory infection which quickly went septic. By Passion Sunday, he was on a ventilator and things were not looking good at all. To amp it up more, one of our well-beloved elderly members died Passion Sunday morning. Her family was in chaos as was mine. Pastoral visit to parishioner's family and a mad dash to Carroll County Hospital to anoint my brother-in-law before his airlift to Inova Fairfax's ICU.

Oh ... and did I mention this is Holy Week? By now, it seemed more like "holy s**t!" to me. Thankfully, my dear friend Michael+ (who is a priest in the Ecumenical Catholic Communion) was willing to step in to preach Good Friday, assist at Maundy Thursday and Easter Vigil along with our deacon Tom+. Organist Dj and I spent loads of time getting programs together for the Triduum along with fielding many phone calls to the grieving family of the deceased parishioner who just couldn't understand why we couldn't have the funeral on Holy Saturday and why we couldn't have a clowning routine in the middle of the service ("I'm sorry, the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer don't mention 'clowns.'" ... Just sayin').

First Maundy Thursday watch in many, many years. Well attended, even by Grace's ghosts (yes, the church is haunted ... but it's all good juju), and very moving.

Good Friday ... live Stations of the Cross:

First Easter Vigil in 10 years ... 55 people present ... fire, smoke and all the pageantry we could muster! Easter morning ... another 60+ people.

Octave of Easter ... funeral for well-beloved parishioner. Clown routine set at beginning before Mass begins as a pastoral compromise. Packed house ... old Brunswick railroaders ... fascinating. Brother-in-law comes back from the dead like Lazarus ... off the vent ... will go on to recover.

Low Sunday? Not so fast! Bishop Joe's visitation ... confirmations - 16 ... reception - 1 ... 102 people the church for the occasion.
Post-Easter break? Well ... a couple days for the priest ... while the organ gets yanked out of the building for a rebuild and expansion...
Now a break? Um Jennie departs this life in May. Big funeral - packed house. Her son plays a piano duet with our organist for the opening hymn, "Morning Has Broken." Not a dry eye in the house. Missing you Jennie!

Summer break? Well ... not much. Stayed and prayed while youth and adults went on first mission trip in ... well ... I don't know how long, if ever.
One week vacation ... yes, the fam and I did get away for a week to Michigan. Then back to eldest daughter leaving for college. OK, she's not far away, but living on campus and not at home. A big adjustment for us and more bathroom space for younger sister.

September brings the Kirkin' o' the Tartan with the Mid-Maryland St. Andrew's Society and the Frederick Scottish Pipes and Drums.
And part of our organ coming back:

Then the Blue Mass for the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels:
Lovettsville Oktoberfest and Brunswick Railroad Days:
And the All Souls Mass and Dedication of the St. Dymphna Garden of Peace in memory of Sophia ... where our whole year started ... with an ending and a beginning:
Many events, many people, many lives coming together and coming apart ... life and death ... hurt and healing ... changing my perspective on so many things ... and through it all is God's grace. If nothing else, the love of God through Christ remains.

Now you know where I've been.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Last words

Maybe it's just because it's Lent or perhaps I'm getting morose as I age, but I've been thinking about last words. What do you say at the end ... of a friendship? of a marriage? of a life?

We lost a young woman in our congregation in January. She took her own life. Her last words were in a text message ... sent to me. She promised me that if she was going to take her life, she would contact me. She did so in a way that made sure I wouldn't be able to intervene. She apologized for doing what she was about to do.

Last words have the power to bless or to break and we never know when those last words will come ... and whether they will be the words of another to us or our own to another.