Sunday, March 22, 2009

Connections from last week with postscript on "getting over fear"

Excerpted from Sublimation by Anne Michaels
Flesh moves to become spirit.
You were the only one to understand my conversion.
Many people have asked me about God;
my proof is manifestation,
that God can be called
"getting over fear."

I wanted badly that truth be a single thing;
now I know it won't be measured.

It wasn't Heisenberg or Hindemith, but you
who convinced me
that nothing can be unraveled to its core,
that truth is a field, a cage, a cloud of sound.
How else to reconcile the faces of those running away
with the faces of those turning away,
with the faces of those in uniform – that hair-shirt
that says more about a man than his eyes
because you can't tell the parts of his face
that are his.
How else to encompass both that crying and those
orders; the sound of my own voice
begging, and my voice telling jokes to the man
without shoes beside me on a train;
how else to encompass the moon's chilling scream
as it calls out in its bad sleep above the earth
and your voice on the phone,
waking me in Paris, Los Angeles, New York.
from Staying Alive: Real Poems for Unreal Times, edited by Neil Astley.

God can be called "getting over fear." Yes, and amen.

Reaching out in this study has yielded its own rewards, so thanks to those who have intentionally or unintentionally provided these materials. This week my connections have taken me in several directions for my readings. One is a resource coming from someone at my luncheon last week, a doctoral study on the impact of openly gay/lesbian clergy who pastor mostly heterosexual churches in the UCC.

After discussing the study design with a friend who teaches statistics, I can concur that there are some unexplored questions about the results. For example, this study says that most of these churches with openly gay/lesbian pastors grew in attendance, Sunday school attendance, membership and giving. Survey design question that I don't know the answer to, can't find much research about: would a similar sampling of churches with a new heterosexual pastor show the same results? That is, is there a new pastor effect that causes growth? Or could the growth be attributed just to chance demographic factors—that these churches are in places where other churches are growing too and the gay/lesbian pastor doesn't make a difference? Even considering both of these caveats, what is clear from this study generally is that openly gay and lesbian ministers in the UCC, despite the worries and fears expressed by pastors and congregations, don't hurt a church's situation and may in fact be very positive contributors toward the Spirit working and growing.

Now how might we translate that information for/to other congregations in other places and denominations?

A second bit of reading followed a link from one of Rev Gal Blog Pal comments from last week (thank you for the warm welcome!) about the United Methodists and their women clergy.

UMC More Women Leaders Sought

The United Methodist Church, which boasts a history of ordaining women clergy, is seeking to shatter the so-called "stained-glass ceiling" blocking female pastors from its largest pulpits.

The nation's second-largest Protestant denomination has launched a new initiative, the Lead Women Pastor Project, to examine barriers to women being appointed pastors to Methodist churches with more than 1,000 members. The Nashville-based United Methodist Church has 44,842 clergy, and about 10,000 are female -- or 23 percent. Yet just 85 women lead those largest churches, compared with 1,082 men in those positions.

Church leaders say more women are needed to shepherd large churches, given that women make up more than half of those enrolled in master of divinity programs in United Methodist seminaries. Also, almost 58 percent of the 8 million-member denomination is female.
-- Associated Press
The details of what they plan are not given, but is something to watch: UM Lead Women Pastors’ Project Aims to Develop, Nurture Clergywomen
I guess we can check back and see what happens.

My reading for balance or pleasure recently has included a murder mystery series by Julia Spencer-Fleming about a woman who is a newly ordained Episcopal priest in her first church in a small town in the Adirondacks. Although I hope that the murder rate in any of our communities is nowhere as high as in this town, the author captures some really wonderful glimpses of what it means to start in ministry. The second book of the series, entitled A Fountain Filled with Blood, has a portion where the priest turns to the Compline prayer alone one night in her church as solace after discovering a particularly gruesome murder the previous day. The value of an ecumenical education is that this was not new to me, but, nonetheless, this portion lingered with me after reading it in this setting.
Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love's sake. Amen.

Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping; that awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace.
May we all be able to turn to God in prayer, turn to "getting over fear," and open to a realization of truth as a container, "a field, a cage, a cloud of sound," as we work, watch or weep this night. Amen.

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