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Monday, May 14, 2012

Pastor Mama

Ever since I first discerned my call to ministry I have been concerned about my ability to maintain dual roles.  To what extent would I be able to have friendships with people within my congregation, especially if I'm serving in a small town and my opportunities for friendships outside of my congregation are greatly limited?  In the community, is everything I do seen as the Pastor of Such-and-Such Lutheran Church endorsing this or that, or are there times when I can just be Karen doing what she likes?  If I ever get married (much to my surprise, this actually did happen), to what extent will my married life be on display?  To what extent does my husband have to fill the traditional role of 'pastor's wife'?  How can I protect my kids' right to be themselves and make their own mistakes?

Over time I worked out the answers to most of these questions.  My internship was in a very small town, but the congregation understood itself to be training a not-quite-yet pastor, so there was never any question about my authority (I had none).  That made it easier to make friends within the congregation, as they were able to see me as a person rather than THE PASTOR.  The congregation where I served my first call was in a good-sized suburb just outside of Baltimore, and there were plenty of opportunities for me to make friends outside of the congregation (the fact that I didn't was my own fault).  However, when I did do something in the community and was seen by someone in the congregation, my activities and behavior were analyzed and subjectively judged by various members based on how they believed a pastor should spend her free time; that was an ongoing problem for as long as I was there.  My husband was allowed to define his own role as THE PASTOR'S FIANCE at the congregation I was serving when we became engaged, as well as at the congregation where I served my next interim (though by the second interim he had graduated from fiance to full-fledged PASTOR'S HUSBAND).  Both interim congregations saw me as THE PASTOR, though they also both recognized me as a human being with a life of her own.  I've come to realize just how rare and valuable a trait that is in a congregation.  The last congregation I served believed it was their right and privilege to define my role as pastor, my role as a a person in the community, my husband's role as pastor's wife, and our role as parents.  I think the only reason my kids were allowed to be themselves was because my son was less than two years old and my daughter was a newborn.  That call didn't last long, and is the reason why I'm unlikely to ever serve in another congregation, and my husband wants nothing do to with church at all.

At the second interim and my last call, I was both PASTOR and MAMA.  But at all times, when I needed to be the pastor, someone else was there to take over the kids.  And when I had primary responsibility for the kids, I could usually put being the pastor on hold.  I've never had to be both PASTOR and MAMA fully and simultaneously.

Until this past weekend.

A few months ago I was asked to serve as Chaplain for Camp Calumet's Moms and Kids weekend retreat.  For some insane reason, I agreed.  So there I was Friday night, showing up late for the retreat because my GPS put me on the wrong side of the lake from the camp.  I'd had to call my husband on my cell phone and ask him to look up where I was on Google Maps and guide me verbally to where I was supposed to be.  This took nearly thirty minutes of me driving a manual transmission one-handed down unfamiliar dark, windy, hilly roads while juggling a skinny little smart phone (no hands-free technology available) with two freaked out kids in the back seat because mama gets a little scary when she's really stressed out.

Needless to say I was not in a good state of mind when we finally made it to the camp, and I was really hoping I was late enough to have missed the devotion I was supposed to lead, because I didn't think I could possibly guide everyone through a calm, relaxing, meditative experience of centering prayer right then.  Unfortunately I hadn't missed it.  Fortunately we did about an hour of get-to-know-you games first.  Usually I hate those games, but this time I was grateful that they allowed me the time to pull myself together enough to lead the centering prayer.

Of course, I didn't get to do any centering prayer.  All the other kids were older and able to at least sit still and quietly during the extended silence; I learned the next day that some of the 9 to 13 year olds actually did the exercise as I'd instructed, and got something out of it.  My kids, however, were 2 and 4, super-excited about being in a new place with new toys and new people, happy to be out of the car after a 3 hour drive, and up well past their bedtime.  I had my hands full keeping them quiet enough to not completely disrupt the prayer.  The fact that this was a group of moms praying probably helped; they're used to tuning out that kind of noise.

The kids were doing a separate activity the next morning when I was leading the bible study, so I was able to be PASTOR with no distractions.  The rest of the day I got to be exclusively MAMA, since our evening devotion got redefined as the call to worship Sunday morning due to a conflict of geography and technology.  (I needed an audio file on my laptop to help with the devotion, which was impossible once a critical mass of moms insisted that the devotion be moved from the room in the conference center where is was originally scheduled to on the beach, tacked on to the end of the campfire.)

The next morning was when my two roles collided.  I was leading Sunday worship on the deck outside of the conference center.  Hymnals, sermon, communion, the works.  My kids had taken a real shine to another mom, who was there with her mother and her 8 year old son, and they graciously agreed to keep my kids with them while I led.  Spencer was fine with that, especially once he realized that this other mom was happy to entertain him, rather than make him sit still in church the way I do.  I decided to just be grateful for the help and not try to make her hold him to my (very-high-but-still-achievable) standards.  But Naomi was having none of it.

The retreat director had found several volunteers to serve as assisting ministers, so after I led the order of confession and forgiveness and the prayer of the day, I got to sit down in the front row for a bit while other people did the readings.  Naomi spent much of that time on my lap, occasionally getting down to go see what Spencer was doing, then coming back to my lap.  She happened to be with her brother when the time came for the gospel reading and my sermon.  I was ten seconds into the gospel reading when Naomi appeared before me with her arms up and a look on her face that told me she knew very well that I couldn't give her a time-out right then, and she was prepared to throw as much of a temper-tantrum as she needed to in order to get what she wanted.  What could I do?  I picked her up and continued to read the gospel as she laid a very contented head on my shoulder.

That head didn't remain contentedly on my shoulder for long.  I was barely into my sermon when I was interrupted by a devastated wail right in my ear.  I looked behind me and saw Teddy Bear (which is actually a pink lamb with a felt flower sewn onto its hand, but Naomi calls him 'Teddy Bear') had managed to launch himself off my shoulder, over the deck railing, and into a prickly bush on the ground below.  The deck was low, but not low enough for me to reach Teddy Bear.  Naomi was demonstrating just how much capacity her two and a half year old lungs had.  I turned back to the somewhat bemused congregation and asked for a volunteer to go get Teddy Bear.  Several of the older kids raced to the stairs, and the one who got there first continued down and around to the bush, retrieved Teddy Bear, passed him to me through the railing, then returned to his seat.  I found where I'd left off on my sermon manuscript and continued on, Naomi once more contently resting her head on my shoulder and holding on very tightly to Blanket and Teddy Bear.  (I think she believed me when I whispered to her that if Teddy Bear fell down again he was staying down, though I know I couldn't have stopped other people from embarking on another Teddy Bear Retrieval Mission if they'd deemed one necessary.)  I preached an entire fifteen minute sermon holding my daughter in my arms behind the lectern that was serving as a pulpit.  While everyone else stood for the hymn of the day, I sat, Naomi on my lap (until she got down to see what Spencer was up to again) shaking my sore right arm vigorously.

She reluctantly stayed with the other mom while I did the communion liturgy, but made herself something of an obstacle during the distribution.  People coming to me for the bread had to step a little to the side and lean over her, because she was standing directly in front of me with her arms up again, wanting to be picked up.  This time it wasn't going to happen.  I can preach and turn the pages of my sermon manuscript one-handed--not so with ripping off small pieces of bread from a larger loaf and handing them to people one at a time.  Eventually I paused in the distribution, put one hand on her head, and gave her my standard blessing for children and others not receiving communion, with a slight deviant addition: "May you always know God's love and care in all that you do.  Now go stand over there please.  Amen."  And it actually worked!  She went and stood over where I told her to.  Ten seconds later Spencer was cutting the line and received the exact same blessing, word for word.  It worked for him, too.

Mercifully the service ended shortly after that.

I am a textual preacher, and the text on Sunday never mentioned Mother's Day.  I never mentioned Mother's Day, or mothers in general, in my sermon.  But what better day to have the preacher preach with her child in her arms?

For all that I've struggled with dual roles, the final verdict is that I am KAREN.  Sometimes I'm a whole host of other things, too.  But on Mother's Day, 2012, at Camp Calumet, New Hampshire, I was PASTOR MAMA.  And I'm good with that.

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