Joanna’s Story

It’s early in the morning.

Still dark. 

selective focus photography of tree leaves

Photo by Egor Kamelev on Pexels.com

The alarm goes off – she tiptoes around the house, gathering her things, so as to not wake the men and children. 

She pours a cup of coffee, leans against the counter, and closes her eyes, one last time as she prepares herself to face the day.  

It’s early in the morning. 

It’s still dark. 

And there’s work to do. 

She double-checks her basket for the perfumes, spices, and oils she’ll need.

She smiles to herself – she had overheard someone say that when the wise people had visited him after his birth, they had brought similar gifts. 

Her breath catches, as the macabre irony of that thought settles in…

She checks on the kids – still sleeping. She quietly leaves and sets off, toward the tomb. The streets are silent, except some crickets chirping in the distance. She walks carefully so as to not trip over a root or a rock in the road.

As she gets closer, a dread sweeps over her. 

She was hoping it was a dream, that she would wake up and everything would go back to normal, to the way it was supposed to be. 

It’s early in the morning. 

It’s still dark. 

She’s almost there when she meets them on the path: Mary, the other Mary, and some friends of theirs. Women they had met along the way of following Jesus in the past few years. They had been through so much together, and here they were together once more.

Walking in silence, side by side. 

Early in the morning.

While it was still dark. 

Sure, some told them they were foolish. Yesterday – the day after IT happened – their friends at the well had told them they’d be better off washing their hands of that man and moving on with their lives. For a moment, she wondered if they were right. 

Her heart started racing as she got closer. Her eyes welled with tears but she bore down with the grit and resiliency that this group of women all shared. They were ready to do the work. 

She began rehearsing in her mind what needed to be done – they’d need to work together to roll the stone away, then they’d each take turns with the fragrant perfumes. Head to toe. 

She wasn’t sure what would happen after that – they all had chores to do, of course, but she imagined they’d gather at one of their homes for some fresh coffee and figs before they went on with their da——

Her thoughts were interrupted. As they approached the tomb she realized that this was not how it was supposed to be — this was NOT how it was supposed to be – the stone wasn’t there but she knew they were the first ones to arrive!

Her heart raced faster, her mouth ran dry, her palms got sweaty as she entered the tomb and stared.

He wasn’t there. 

There was no body. 

Then she heard someone speak. She turned to see two men sitting there — had they rolled the stone away? —  she looked down in fear. 

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” they asked. 

Then she remembered his words – those words that didn’t make sense at the time but now she understood.

He is not here – he is not here!

For he is… risen. 

———–

Luke 24:1-12: The Women Find the Empty Tomb

 

Decoding Discrimination (or: How to Discover What Your Church Really Believes)

I’ve spent my life in church.

I’m a bit of a church nerd, actually. I love business meetings and conferences; ecclesiastical conversations are my FAVORITE conversations; and, well, I use words like “ecclesiastical” on a regular basis (ecclesiastical = churchy stuff). 

I care deeply about church — and I care deeply about churches being honest. Which is why the very-public nature of the Chris Pratt/ Ellen Page/ Hillsong Church conversation lately has deeply disturbed me, though not at all surprised me.

arco + KEVINSee, I often read websites of churches and other Christian organizations, and am keyed in to the coded language that clouds reality. Some churches are very upfront about what they believe – and I really appreciate that, even when I disagree with their conclusions.

But I have a huge problem with churches who hide their theology in the fine print, apparently so those who disagree still fill their pews — and their offering plates. 

If people would leave your church if they read the fine print, then you probably need to rethink your theology, your congregation, or both. 

I’ve heard people say that they think their church doesn’t discriminate because “all are welcome!” — but there is a huge difference between not turning people away at the door, and inviting people into all aspects of church life (from membership to ordination, and everything in between) regardless of their gender, orientation, or identity.  

A friend of mine once served a church that welcomed a lesbian couple with open arms – and because they were so welcoming, that couple invited their friends. Within a few months, there were several queer couples attending worship there, and the congregation was kind and loving to them, never mean or judgmental. Some of the visitors had been hurt at previous churches and were so glad to find a place where they could worship, without being shamed every time they entered the doors. 

Until, of course, that first couple wanted to join the church and teach Sunday School, at which point they were notified by the pastor that the church actually believed they were living in sin because of their unrepentant same-sex relationship, and they were not welcome into membership. All of these queer people then realized that the church that had been “welcoming” to them saw their identity as a sin to overcome, not a part of their wholly, perfectly, created selves. Their straight friends who attended with them never had any idea that the church wasn’t affirming, because, well, they never needed to ask and just assumed, because again, they were all really nice. 

And this reveals the privilege of people who are cisgender and heterosexual. There’s never a *need* to find out, to seek clarity. When the system works for us, we have no need to question it.

I’ve known so many people who are personally affirming — they advocate equal rights and equal protections for everyone… and yet, they go to churches that are not. But what’s sad to me — and what the Hillsong conversation reveals — is that often, churches who hold that leadership is reserved for men, and deny equality to people who are LGBTQ+ — do so with a veneer of acceptance, without really being honest. 

Thankfully, Church Clarity is helpful in discerning where churches stand, but according to their own website, they are backlogged right now – and even then, not every church in the country is on their list. 

So, if you attend a church and you aren’t sure what they really think, let my years of church nerdiness and ability to speak coded church language help. 

First, a caveat. I am not saying that what follows is a test that a church “passes” or “does not pass.” There are reasons why faithful pastors and congregations do not have written policies on inclusion — but since discrimination often masquerades as silence, we cannot let silence be interpreted as affirmation. And, really, that’s the whole point of this list: Because so few churches say explicitly what they believe and practice, we must be more diligent to seek out answers. Maybe you’ll discover that, while your church has never made a statement of inclusion, they are working toward it and actively seeking justice; maybe you’ll discover that while your church seems like they treat everyone equally, no woman has ever stood behind a pulpit. Maybe you’ll discover you’re exactly where you need to be; maybe you won’t. 

Also, I have never known of any church that welcomes gay men into leadership, but not straight women. If you know of one, I’d love to hear about it. And often trendy churches are just as avoidant of their discrimination against women as they are their discrimination against people who are LGBTQ+, so I’m including women into this discernment list. 

Go to your church’s website. Don’t rely on what you think you know about the church, because as we’ve seen time and time again, often the people in the pews have no idea how discriminatory actual policies and theology are. If you can’t find the information on the website, ask the pastor for clarification; don’t assume that because you have a gay couple in the pews, or the pastor just seems really cool, that they treat LGBTQ+ people – and women – equal to straight cis men. 

~ Who are the pastors? Are there any women? Any LGBTQ+ people? Have there been in the past? 

~ Who makes decisions? In many churches, these are elders, deacons, trustees, board members, session members, or something similar. Are there any women? Any LGBTQ+ people? If no, why not? 

~ Do they use heavy masculine language for God? (He/Him/His, Father, etc) I hesitated including this question; there are a lot of reasons faithful Christians use masculine language. However, in my experience, often churches that rely exclusively on masculine language about God and humanity tend to be less inclusive in other ways as well. 

~ Look at the statement of faith/ “What We Believe” (often found in the “About Us” section of a website), policy papers, and the church’s constitution. Does it include anything about gender, orientation, gender identity, or marriage? (Look for words like “biology,” “God-given gender,” “natural,” and “biblical marriage.”)

~ Where the constitution speaks to leadership (pastoral or lay), does it specify that those positions are reserved for men? 

~ Will the church ordain women and/or people who are openly LGBTQ+ (without requiring celibacy)? 

~ Will the church marry people who are LGBTQ+? 

~ Will the church preclude people who are women and/or LGBTQ+ from any ministry role? 

~ Will this church celebrate the identity of people of all genders and gender identities? Some churches are open to gay, lesbian, and bisexual people, but not people who are trans, nonbinary, or genderqueer.

These questions aren’t exhaustive, but it’s a good place to start, and should, at the very least, invite some honest conversation about why your church believes and practices what it does.

Now for church leaders who want to be fully affirming:

~ Would people who are seeking a safe place to worship (without being viewed as sinners due to their identity) be able to find confirmation of that on your website? 

~ If you see yourself as egalitarian but don’t have any women in decision-making leadership, what is one next step you can take toward inclusion of women?

~ If you see yourself as affirming people who are LGBTQ+, but the congregation has not done the work to make that explicit, what is one next step you can take toward inclusion of all orientations and gender identities? 

I’m not saying you should immediately leave churches that aren’t fully affirming. Each of us has different things we’re comfortable with, different things that are dealbreakers, different experiences and convictions. But what I am saying is that, if equality is important to you personally, don’t give your church a pass just because they say “all are welcome.” 

Because until “all” really does mean all, it’s up to us to press toward the goal.

 

 

Coming Out on Bi Visibility Day

36302998_10215405338142936_4239855199075696640_oI am a Christian, a pastor, happily married to a man, a mother of three… and bisexual. None of those things are changing. 

If you don’t read the rest of this (it is rather long), that is what matters. 

Maybe you’ve known this about my identity as long as you’ve known me. Maybe it’s the first time you’ve heard me say it, but you’re not surprised. Maybe it’s a shock.

For a long time, it has not been a secret, but also not something I really talked much about – there are people very close to me who I never told, because, well, I didn’t need to. I have struggled with this tension on many levels, and I always asked the question, “Why would they need to know?”

But I’ve been asking the wrong question. When so many people have been hurt by the church and condemned by pastors because of their identity, the question I realized I needed to ask is, “Why wouldn’t they need to know?” I came to a different conclusion, which is that my silence – while making things more comfortable for me, to be sure – was unhelpful to the realm of God.

Screen Shot 2018-09-22 at 7.49.49 PM

Today is Bi Visibility Day, which is a day on which people all over the world recognize the reality and diversity of people who are bi+, as this identity is often hidden or erased. So today, I am making myself… visible.

As a Christian, as a pastor, as a wife, as a mother, I want to say, loudly, to those who might doubt because of what the church has said: You are loved by God. No matter who you are or who you love, even if you think it’s impossible. You are loved, wholly and fully, just as you are. As you were created to be. 

I also know that for many of you reading this, you might be in some shock. You probably have all sorts of questions. So, for fun, I have a little Q&A here, so we don’t have to have the awkward conversation of you, you know, actually saying these things out loud:

~~ What exactly does this mean?~~ 

Bisexual people are attracted to people of their own gender as well as people of another gender. Some people mean that they are attracted to both men and women; some people include those who don’t neatly fit into those parameters. Sometimes the language used is “bi+” to include those nuances. It is really really important to note that this is an identity, not a description of behavior. 

Bi visibility is important, because many people tend to not really understand what this means, so just sort of… pretend it isn’t real. And, again, this is about identity, not behavior. (Yes, I’m going to keep repeating this.)

~~ Are you going to stay married? ~~ 

Yes, happily, I might add. Nothing about my marriage is changing. 

~~ When did this start? ~~ 

It’s been true my whole life, and I always knew it. I have been using the language of bi (or queer, which is a more encompassing word that I resonate with) for several years.

(A side note here on queer. I use it several times throughout this, knowing that it carries different connotations for different people. I use it to identify people who are not cisgender heterosexual. Read more here.) 

~~ Why didn’t you tell me before now? ~~ 

For a long time, this hasn’t been a secret, and I don’t talk about it often. For a lot of bi+ people — especially those partnered with the opposite gender like I am — it doesn’t necessarily come up a lot. This is one of the reasons Bi Visibility Day is so important… because I guarantee you, I’m not the only bi person you know. My coming out process has been a slow and intentional one, and for the most part, if I didn’t need to share it, I didn’t. If this is the first you’ve heard, it had far more to do with me than with you. 

~~ So then… why do you need to tell us this now? ~~

Well, for two reasons. The first is that I’m realizing more and more how important it is to be completely authentic, and for me, that means being honest about who I am. I feel more whole when I don’t have to hide a part of myself, or live in fear that someone will out me to a particular person or group. Though it has not been a secret for a long time, there have been times when I felt like I was hiding something. That’s no way to live. 

The other reason, which is frankly much more important to me, is precisely because I don’t have to. I am a cisgender, white, educated woman, with a fully supportive husband. Neither my marriage nor my job is on the line. But the more I have invited people into this part of myself, the more I have been amazed by the number of people who glance around then quietly say, “Well, so am I…” But there is always so much risk. There’s risk for me in you reading these words today, and I will not minimize that. But a lot of people carry a lot more risk, and that’s why I’m sharing. 

It isn’t enough for me to “pass” as straight anymore. Bi+ people often stay in the closet in part precisely because this identity is so misunderstood – by medical professionals, by friends, by clergy, by everyone. My hope is that my story might help normalize it, as a voice that loudly says “Here I am!” so others don’t feel quite so alone when they respond, “So am I…” As I said earlier, there are LGBTQ+ people in your life – particularly bi people – even if you don’t realize it. 

There are three groups of people that I want am particularly hoping to normalize this for.

The first is those who are also not cis/straight – however they identify – but feel alone. I’m here to say, you aren’t alone. You are loved. You are enough. You are good. 

The next is pastors and Christians and churches who theologically are affirming of all identities and orientations… but who stay silent, because polite people don’t talk about this, and we never say we think it is a sin, so everyone must know we don’t think that. I am finding it harder and harder to lend voice to these conversations without revealing this part of myself, and given the choice between being silent and being honest, I’m going to choose the latter. The more time passes, the more I wish churches would do the same. I’m not talking about churches whose theology does not affirm inclusion (that’s another conversation for another day) – but I am more and more saddened by churches who think that their silence means they are safe for everyone. That is not true. At all. If we mean “all means all” – we must say it, explicitly. (And also, if we say it, we must mean it fully – including weddings and ordinations and membership and teaching and everything else.)

The last group of people I want to normalize this for are the Christians reading this who are shocked I can still call myself a Christian. Maybe you think you don’t know anyone who is LGBTQ+. If you are a pastor, there are queer people in your pews. If you are a teacher, there are queer students in your classroom. Recently I heard someone ask, “Who was the first openly gay Christian you knew?” – and I realized that my answer to that was someone at seminary. Now, you can say you know someone… so that when that church member or Soldier or student or your own child comes out to you, it won’t be the first time you’ve heard the words.

That’s why visibility matters.

~~ Are you going to make me talk about this with you? ~~

Oh, goodness no. In fact, I really prefer to avoid awkward conversations altogether, so if you are in my life and want to never bring this up in conversation, I am completely on board. Let’s keep talking about my kids and the Texas heat and the latest BBC show and whatever else we usually discuss. I really love talking about all those things (have you heard it’s hot here??). 

~~ Can we still be friends if I disagree with you? ~~

Absolutely. In fact, I hope we can. Because I know that there are a lot of people I care about and love who aren’t excited about this, and again, if we haven’t had to talk about it before now, we still don’t have to. My only caveat to this is that this isn’t a “difference of opinion” that we can “agree to disagree” on. For you, it’s your belief. For me, it’s my identity. This isn’t something that we both think differently about – this is what you *think* vs who I *am.* These two things are not the same. We can be friends, but if you insist on trying to convince me of this false equivalency, that might change. (But, again, see above. I am happy to not talk about it at all.) 

~~ I want to learn more because I’m genuinely interested. What should I do? ~~

Google searches are tricky, because some resources are made to look helpful, but are actually not affirming of people. Here’s a list of some good places to start:
hrc.org
http://queergrace.com (particularly this: http://queergrace.com/encyclopedia/)
In honor of Bi Visibility Day: biresources.org
https://www.glaad.org/reference/lgbtq 

~~ …So am I. But I’m not ready to be public. Can I talk to you about it? ~~

ABSOLUTELY. Always. If you don’t know me personally, you can leave a comment here; I approve every comment before it gets published, so if you don’t want it public, let me know that in the comment and no one will see it but me. Or, you can email me at revsaranavefisher at gmail dot com

 

With all that said, I also want to thank all the people who have been so supportive over the years. I am carried by professors; by colleagues in various areas and seasons of ministry; by friends, far and near; and most of all, by my husband Jonathan, who has never wavered in his love or support of me. Thank you all. 

Beth Moore & Benevolent Sexism

Beth Moore & Benevolent Sexism

I’ve never been a huge fan of Beth Moore. The reasons for this shifted as my faith and theology did, but I’ve always found a reason to be skeptical of her.  Most recently, she had fallen off my radar, as my list of followed theologians grew beyond common evangelical household names.

Until today, when Beth Moore bravely published a letter to “her brothers” in which she describes what her life has been like as a conservative woman in the evangelical public spotlight.

Spoiler Alert: It has been rife with sexism.

I give her credit: She raised up an entire generation of evangelical women and told them they could actually study the Bible. She took Ladies Bible Study groups from fluffy books barely tied to the Bible to in-depth Scriptural analysis. Don’t get me wrong — I disagree with many of her conclusions, and the last time I participated in a Beth Moore Bible Study I remember wanting to throw the book across the room.

But what she reveals in this post betrays the image she portrays on the platform:

As a woman leader in the conservative Evangelical world, I learned early to show constant pronounced deference – not just proper respect which I was glad to show – to male leaders and, when placed in situations to serve alongside them, to do so apologetically. I issued disclaimers ad nauseam. I wore flats instead of heels when I knew I’d be serving alongside a man of shorter stature so I wouldn’t be taller than he. I’ve ridden elevators in hotels packed with fellow leaders who were serving at the same event and not been spoken to and, even more awkwardly, in the same vehicles where I was never acknowledged. I’ve been in team meetings where I was either ignored or made fun of, the latter of which I was expected to understand was all in good fun. I am a laugher. I can take jokes and make jokes. I know good fun when I’m having it and I also know when I’m being dismissed and ridiculed. I was the elephant in the room with a skirt on.

This sounds more like a scene from The Handmaid’s Tale than the actions of people who claim to be following the ways of Jesus. It reeks of uneven power dynamics used to oppress. These men shroud their sin in “theological interpretations” and seem justified, pious, godly. They point to a text and convince themselves — and others — that their bias is holy and ordained by God.

See, the men in Moore’s stories — the ones who refused to speak to her (following the Billy Graham Rule, to be sure), the ones who expected her deference (didn’t you know God created Adam first?), the ones who commented on her appearance instead of her call — they didn’t see themselves as sinning through their actions. If anything, I am certain they saw themselves as embodying Godly Manhood.

When I was in college, a well-loved professor came to my floor for a Q&A about Complementation Theology. I dutifully took notes, but I could not ignore the knot in my stomach that got tighter and tighter as the night went on. I only remember one specific thing he said: “As a woman, you never lay your cards on the table first in a relationship. He needs to be the first to tell you how he feels, the first to tell you where God is leading you as a couple. Only after he has shared with you, may you share your feelings with him.” At face value, it doesn’t sound bad — maybe a little dated, but not harmful.

 

image.pngBut what that communicated to me, a 19-year-old woman, was that my feelings did not matter as much as a man’s, that my only responsibility was to allow the man to speak first, so that I could affirm him. That my feelings and thoughts couldn’t be trusted, and if a man didn’t feel compelled to have this conversation, I just needed to wait for him. And wait. And wait. And never tell him what I thought or felt. But maybe pray. Then wait some more. We plastered the Bible verse “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” all over our floor and vowed to follow our wise professor’s instructions.

This conversation was only one of many, and I believed the lie that I couldn’t trust myself and that my thoughts and feelings weren’t valid I believed that I couldn’t fully live into my calling without a husband, and even then, my future husband’s desires and decisions would always take precedence. Which is exactly why, for most of my life, I pushed my own gifts aside and lived inauthentically. That is an ungodly and miserable way to live.

The tricky thing is that the overwhelming majority of men I’ve known entrenched in benevolent sexism actually are… not jerks. I enjoyed them and have been (and am) dear friends with them. They aren’t bad people. They aren’t creepy and certainly not predatory. They’re the types of men you want to be around, the types of men you trust to do what is best.

And this is precisely the problem with benevolent sexism: It masquerades as kindness, it masquerades as love — in my experience, it is often done from a place of good intentions… but it is no less harmful to women than overt sexism. Instead of a flash of pain that might compel a victim to seek a different path, this variety is more like lifelong gaslighting, slowly eroding a woman’s self-worth until she never questions another way. Benevolent sexism is often done unintentionally and ensnares men as much as women, but women pay a much higher price. And it’s done in the name of God.

This sort of sexism is a sin of omission: Where women aren’t, what women aren’t allowed to say, who women aren’t allowed to say it to. But all for their own good, of course. It creates an echo chamber that privileges men’s voices and experiences to the point that — in the case of Beth Moore — they won’t even speak to a woman in the room.

Beth Moore is brave, because she named that sexism as what it is: Sin. It isn’t just a different interpretation or theological understanding… it is sin, and it breaks our relationships with each other and with God.

As far as we know from Moore’s letter, no man touched her. No man tried to coerce her into sex. No man was violent toward her. But is that the best we can ask? To NOT be assaulted? There must be a better way. In fact, there is a better way, and it is treating all people the same, not separating and excluding based on gender. It means asking if our reasons for gender roles are actually theological, or if, maybe, just maybe, we’ve never considered an alternative.

I applaud Beth Moore for standing up today, because too many women do not or cannot. As someone with power, privilege, and resources, she knew she is going to face backlash for her words, and she chose to say them anyway. She’s using her voice and her God-given gifts to speak up so that the women who come behind her might have a slightly easier path.

I still don’t agree with all of her theology, and that’s okay. She’d still be welcome behind my pulpit any Sunday —  even in heels.

Choose This Day (a goodbye)

Joshua 24:1-3, 14-25

Have you ever been on the precipice, not knowing exactly what was going to happen next?

That’s where Joshua and the Israelites found themselves.

They had been through a lot together. This isn’t one of the stories we covered in our VBS for the Rest of Us series, but it very well could have been. Most of us probably know the story of Joshua and Jericho from our childhood – but the problem with just thinking about the story is sometimes we miss the big picture, so let’s back up a bit…

Remember Moses? Let my people go? Parting the Red Sea? Ten Commandments? Sound familiar? Moses had led God’s people out of captivity in Egypt and had then wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Moses was a great leader. Before he died, Moses chose Joshua to take his place to lead the people the promised land. Moses, who had led the people through such enormous change, passed these words of hope on to Joshua:

“Be strong and bold… because it is the Lord your God who goes with you;
he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed”
(Deuteronomy 31:6)

It was a new era. Most of the people who were alive then had never been in captivity. They had been born during the years of desert wandering and had never known what it was like to have a place called “home.”  The promised land was in view – the problem is, it was promised to them but held by others. In an incredibly violent story, God leads Joshua to take over Jericho – by completely destroying it. According to the text, this is accomplished by Joshua and his men walking around the city one time per day for seven days, then on the seventh day, walking around it seven times, then blowing horns. Let that sink in. The plan to destroy the city… was to walk around it.

It didn’t make any sense. It defied all logic and all understanding. There wasn’t a reason they could point to about why God had asked them to do this seemingly outrageous thing – the only thing that mattered was their faith, their belief that God would be faithful to God’s promises.

And isn’t that how it works sometimes? The thing we’re called to do just doesn’t make sense?

Many years passed. Joshua was growing old, another era was ending.

Which brings us to today’s text. Joshua had gathered the people together. He knew his time with them was coming to an end. He knew he would soon die and the people would have to decide what was next. So he told them:

Choose this day who you will serve. 

He reminded them that they had not always served Jehovah, the God of Israel. Remember that these were ancient people, tribal people, so it wasn’t a matter of serving God or being an atheist – they wouldn’t have conceived of it in that way. It was more about whether they would serve the gods of the land, or the gods of their ancestors –
or the GOD who has been faithful to them.

For the ancient Israelites – and even for the New Testament authors – they had no concept of “believing” in God. Believing was serving and vice versa. Faith to the apostle Paul wasn’t an intellectual idea, but rather how you embody what you believe – faith is an action, not a thought.

When Joshua tells the people to choose this day, it wasn’t to say a prayer and be done with it. It was to commit to a lifetime of reflecting God – choice after choice after choice.

——————-

You’ve probably gathered by now why I chose this text from the options for today instead of the Gospel text.

Two roads diverged - scaled

We, too, are on a precipice – all of us. We, too, are confronted with choices. We, too, are not sure what the next chapter holds…

 

… though we, too, know it won’t be written together.

Next month, our faith community will go separate directions. I will be moving to San Antonio with my family – and yes, that is different from when I first shared the news last spring we were moving to D.C.

At the same time, Pastor Nathan and his family will be moving to Atlanta.

We are all on a precipice. There is a lot about the next chapter that we don’t know.

When Joshua spoke to the Israelites, he reminded them of the faithfulness of God through the time they had been together… so in my last sermon here, I want to do the same.

There is one particular part of our collective story that some of you know and some of you might not. In fact, because of how much this congregation has changed in the past three years, some of you were not even here when it happened.

A little over three years ago, as a seminary student, I was required to serve a congregation for 10 hours a week – paid or unpaid. I am so grateful for the program Lexington Theological Seminary offers, because it was the only way I was able to finish seminary with as much as we move. At the time we were stationed at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina, and when my husband got orders for Fort Campbell, I Googled nearby Disciples churches and emailed the pastor. I remember feeling very nervous, because I had to be at a church – I didn’t have a choice – and I wasn’t sure what I would encounter! This week in a fit of nostalgia I looked up that email. It began:

Good afternoon Reverend Brown,

My name is Sara Fisher, and I am a student at Lexington Theological Seminary.

I continued on, asking him if he would consider letting me intern here while I completed coursework.

Little did we know… 

But here is the remarkable part of that story. Just before I sent that email, the youth director, Brian Miller, had resigned. I emailed back and forth with Nathan, followed by phone calls, and after we had gotten to know each other a little better he said, “You know, I hadn’t told you this at first, but we actually have an opening on staff…”

Looking back, there’s a lot that we all didn’t know three years ago.

We didn’t know how long I would be here – when we first arrived, 12 months was rather likely. We didn’t know that my husband would deploy  – though, from Fort Campbell, that wasn’t really a surprise.

When I arrived three years ago, I walked in to a church that had anxiety because their senior minister was about to take sabbatical. There was a lot of uncertainty at that time – that spring, those “what if…” questions were on everyone’s minds.

What if there’s a funeral?
What if there’s a conflict?
What if the church is struck by lightning?

We didn’t know how well this church would work together for those three months…
What we would learn in those three months.

(and the church wasn’t even hit by lightning…)

We didn’t know about all the staff transition – since I’ve been here,
Pastor Jackie accepted a call to Virginia,
Jane McInnis, Sandy Cunningham, and Diane Beatty retired,
and Jane Wells, Donna Chapman, and Pat Sunderland stepped into those roles.
Whitney Joyner stepped down as our children’s choir director and Sylvia stepped up,
We added a youth choir with Hollie Dueker,
Jenny Fleming began filling in with children’s ministries this summer –
and I alone have had four separate job titles here in the three years I’ve been.

This church knows transition.
And we’ve experienced the faithfulness of God with each one.

Three years ago, we didn’t know how great of a fit we would all be for each other.

We didn’t know how much of a family you would become to my children.

We didn’t know that my leaving and Nathan’s leaving would align.

We didn’t know how sad we would all be heading into this Advent.

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Of course, some of the changes in these past three years we might have anticipated with the passing of time.

Sara Camp and Caitlyn Shelton – those freshmen girls I met the day I arrived –
are, unsurprisingly, getting ready to graduate.

With each passing year as the all youth grew older, their questions have grown more challenging. Their faith has grown more engaged.

Then there’s that group of 5th graders I kept my eye on when I first arrived and welcomed as balls of anxious energy to youth group that first fall… who are now emerging leaders not just in the youth group but in the church – as 8th graders.

Whatever anxiety and uncertainty there is about the next chapter right now, let me tell you, you have amazing young people who are ready to help write it.

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Yes, we as a church are on the precipice and about to begin new seasons of our journeys… but the reality is, those are not the only decisions facing us today.

I know and you know, that is not the only concern on our minds. Because we here gathered as a community, but each Sunday morning when we meet in the same room we bring the previous week’s worth of joys and concerns and decisions and changes with us.

And most of the time, the decisions we need to make aren’t between following God and not following God, but rather how to follow God. How to faithfully live. Choosing whether or not to follow God isn’t just a once-in-a-lifetime decision. It’s a choice today. And a choice tomorrow. And a choice on Tuesday. And choice every day after that.

Following God, serving God, loving God, is a choice made every time we put the needs of others before our own. It is a choice made every time we stand up for someone being hurt. It is a choice made every time we give of ourselves and our resources. Choice after choice, we cultivate a lifetime of faithfulness to God.

I don’t know what God is calling you to do for the rest of your life, or 10 years from now, or really, even next week. But I know that today, God is calling all of us – individually and as a church – to make Disciples of Christ by sharing God’s love in relationship, reflection, and response.

You will continue to bring God’s love to your workplaces, your schools, your civic engagement. People around Hopkinsville will continue to know this as a welcoming place because they know all of you. Every day brings new opportunities to bring the love of God to this community. The choice is yours.

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Remember that remarkable part of the story that when I emailed Pastor Nathan, Brian had just resigned?

Brian’s first day back at FCC is three weeks from today, and he is beginning his time at LTS.

And somewhere, your next associate minister is on a precipice. Maybe already in search and call, he or she is wondering what the future holds. Grappling with uncertainty. In that liminal space – of not yet.

And. Somewhere. Your next senior minister is on a precipice. She or he might be standing in a pulpit, right at this moment, maybe feeling a call from God, some nudge they don’t even understand, to enter the search and call process.

Pray for them.
They are, somewhere, being prepared in ways they don’t even know yet
to help write the story of First Christian Church.

They will arrive to a church not knowing what is ahead.
Not knowing if they will be a good fit.
Not knowing how long they will stay.
Not knowing if you will become family.

So – this day, as you wait,
Be strong and bold… because it is the Lord your God who goes with you;
God will not fail you or forsake you.
Do not fear or be dismayed.

All Means All: Remembering our Trans* Service Members

You know those nice commercials with the service members? You know the ones, with instrumental music in the background, maybe an American flag? Then the camera cuts to the service member surprising her kid at school, or walking on the football field when his son doesn’t expect it, or stepping into an airport to thunderous applause? Those commercials that make you think, “I am proud to be an American! I am proud of our troops!” Those commercials?

Those commercials only tell half the story.

(Read the whole article at Red Letter Christians…)

The Monster

I first imagined myself as a preacher when I was a little girl of four. I listened to a missionary share his exciting stories of preaching overseas and knew that was what I wanted to do, too. As I got older, I never considered any life path that wasn’t ministry. I would dream about what it would be like to talk to crowds about God, faith, and spirituality. I would watch myself in the mirror to see how I might look to those listening to me speak.

Of course, as a woman, I knew that I couldn’t really preach. Each time I looked in the mirror, the gathered listeners I envisioned were all women, because my body — the very one I saw in the mirror — prevented me from speaking about God to men. Sure, I could lead a women’s Bible study, I could teach children’s Sunday School, I could even speak at women’s retreats. The best way to use my gifts, I was told, was as a pastor’s wife. I was told there was one best way to be the person God wanted me to be: by marrying a man of God and living my life as his “helpmeet.” So I did.

But my call wasn’t to be a pastor’s wife.

Continue reading at Off the Page…