“So, How Long You Been Outta High School?”

I’ve tried to be nice about it.  I’ve tried using it as a teaching moment.  I’ve tried to ignore it.  I’ve tried to ask a different question.  But after meeting someone (usually an older adult) and they learn I am a pastor, I hear all too often,

“So, how long since you’ve been outta high school?!”  or the similar, “You look like you’re 16!”  “Are you sure you’re old enough to be a pastor?”

Setting all snark aside, and with all due respect, I want to say this to people of older generations: Please, please, PLEASE stop asking questions like this to young professional women.  Just stop.  I realize that the person might be trying to be funny or may think it’s a compliment, or to connect with us, but please.  Stop and think about it.  Would you have said the same thing to a young male professional?

Young professional women are tired of feeling like we have to prove ourselves fit for ministry or our work by answering or responding to questions like this.  We are tired of having to verify our age, credentials, or education just so you can feel empowered by asking such a question.  Questions like this are disrespectful, hurtful, sexist, and are bridge burners instead of bridge builders.

After enjoying a conversation recently with an older gentleman whom I had just met, this question came.  He knew I was a pastor.  He knew I was sitting with some of the members of my congregation.  Yet he asked it anyway.  I immediately put a wall up.

Instead of asking this question or something similar to a young woman, why not ask about her ministry, her work as a pastor, her reasons for responding to God’s call upon her life?  If you’re so curious about her age, why not ask about where she went to school, or why, at a young age, did she go into ministry when there are a lot of pastors who do not go into ministry until later in life as second career? Or sometimes, it’s best just to say nothing at all.

As a young clergy woman, I want to build relationships with people of all ages and to be on this journey with them.  But when the older generation just cannot help themselves and makes comments like this, it makes it very hard.  The UMC has been ordaining women for 60 years, and I have a wonderful circle of young women clergy colleagues who are building the kingdom and the church, and we want to come alongside you.  So please, ask a different question.

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Give Them Jesus

Mark 1:29-39

29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ 38He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ 39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.


Kimberli and Melchor were an average church-going American family with 2 young children, but in 2015, tragedy struck.  Melchor was diagnosed with cancer, and began an excruciating journey of chemo treatments, countless doctor visits and hospital stays.  Unfortunately, his battle with cancer ended with his death in February of 2017.  Kimberli shares her story with the world on her blog as she writes about Melchor’s illness and life now as a widow with 2 children.

In one of her blog posts entitled, “Why the Church Doesn’t Need Any More Coffee Bars,” she talks about how her husband’s illness and eventual death made her view church in a new way.

Through all of Melchor’s treatments and difficult moments, he did not talk about the trendy coffee bar at church, the pastor’s trendy jeans, or the modern lighting in the sanctuary.  He talked about Jesus.  He talked about the scriptures, the sermons he heard that gave him hope.  The healing moments.  Through the long nights, he sang hymns.  He prayed.  He needed Jesus.

Reflecting back, Kimberli said,

“There are people whose marriages are crumbling, people whose finances are deteriorating, people whose children are rebelling and people like me, whose husband has passed away after a brutal fight with cancer. And these people are not impressed with the stage lighting. They could care less about the coffee flavor. They don’t need to be pumped or hyped. They need Jesus.”

As a pastor I go to a lot of meetings and read a lot of books about how to grow the church or what the latest trend or hook is to get people in the door.  But all of that means nothing if we do not give them Jesus.

From our text today, it is obvious that a lot of people were in need of Jesus.  He had just come from teaching in the synagogue of Capernaum where he healed a man with an unclean spirit.  From this moment on, his fame began to spread.  Jesus was going “viral”!

After this, he goes to Simon and Andrew’s home, and proceeds to heal Simon Peter’s mother-in-law.  Demonstrating the effects of the healing power of Jesus, she immediately gets up and resumes her daily household chores and provides hospitality to those in her home.

Word must have spread very quickly, because only a few hours had passed before all of those who were sick gathered at the door, and Jesus healed each and every one.  The next morning, Jesus got up, went to a deserted place, and prayed.  Let’s not gloss over this.  In the midst of the chaos, the noise, the countless people who called for him, the Savior of the World needed a time out to pray.  To listen.  To sit in the silence.

When was the last time you sat in the silence and prayed?  When was the last time you took a time out from all of the chaos and noise of your life to listen for and sit the presence of God?  I know I have a hard time with it.  Sometimes the only time I really get is in the quiet of my son’s nursery when I’m putting him to bed at night.

I make it a goal to put my phone down, and instead of catching up on social media or my personal vice of shopping, I try to sit in the silence and pray.  And I’ve found in these moments the reminder of how much I really do need Jesus.  Because the world throws so much at us and tries to hand us things we think we need.  But we really do just need to simplify it and re-focus our lives on him.

Jesus himself takes time in the quiet to pray before his next task in his ministry.  While he is doing this, our text says that his disciples and others “hunted for him.”  Other translations say, they “tracked him down” or “searched for him.”  Either way, we get that the guy couldn’t even get a minute to himself before the masses descended.  “Everyone is searching for you!” they said.  But instead of going back to the same town and the same people, Jesus expresses the need to go to the other towns to share his message and to heal elsewhere, because that is what he came to do.

People needed Jesus- not just in one place, but in all places.  It seems that the people of Capernaum wanted to keep Jesus for themselves.  But Jesus makes it clear that he did not come for one group or one town or one type of people.  He came for all people in all towns and places.

This got me thinking.  How often do we keep Jesus to ourselves instead of sharing him with someone else?  Or how often do we tend to think of Jesus in our own terms, or put him in a box so that he only serves us and our opinions or agendas?

A well-respected colleague of mine once said that we tend to label Jesus for our own purposes.  If we are a Republican, Jesus tends to look Republican.  If we are a Democrat, Jesus tends to look like a Democrat.  If we are Libertarian, then Jesus tends to look like a Libertarian.  If we are on one side of an issue, we believe that Jesus is standing with us.  We forget that Jesus is on both sides, healing, preaching, and leading the way of God.

In our world right now that is so divided, so broken, so hurting- we need to give them Jesus.  Not the Jesus we tend to put in our own boxes or to keep for ourselves or the one who serves our own agendas- we need to give them the Jesus that came so that all might receive a powerful message of hope and healing.  That is, after all, what he came to do.

There was this great cartoon (PIC) making its way around social media at one point where people are drawing their lines around whatever the divisive issue of the day is, and Jesus is coming up behind them erasing each line, as if to remind us that he does not stand on either side of the line, but came for all that we may be one, in spite of our differences and disagreements.


If you have not read your February newscaster yet, I encourage you to do so because I have included a lot of information in there about what the United Methodist denomination is doing around the topic of homosexuality and the church, and there is information about upcoming opportunities for you to learn and be a part of the conversation.  As many of you know, our denomination has been divided over this for a very long time, and now we are at a critical point of asking how we as a church will move forward.

The future is unknown, the reality is that we are divided on many levels, but in the midst of this, there are, in fact, holy and loving conversations happening, and we are being encouraged to keep the main thing the main thing- to give people Jesus.  Because at the end of the day, we might disagree with someone, but Jesus is standing on both sides, ready to offer grace, healing, and mercy.  We are tempted to draw that line around ourselves, but then we turn around and see Jesus erasing it, inviting us to see the bigger picture.

I don’t know about you, but I want to hold on to hope for the church.  I want to continue to give people Jesus, and not keep him to myself.  It’s so easy to get caught up in catchy ways we can hook people in, and it’s so easy to get distracted by hot button topics, politics, and divisiveness in the church that we forget to in fact, give people Jesus.  As Kimberli, in the midst of her grief, reminds us,

“The church does not need any more coffee bars or the latest trends. Instead, tell a person how God has changed your life. Show them the love of God through your actions. Demonstrate how God helped you through the darkest of storms.

And a message to church leaders: Remember that you are not just trying to attract the hip and the cool to your church. You are reaching widows. You are reaching children who don’t have a parent. You are reaching someone battling with a disease. You are reaching a person going through a divorce. You are reaching a businessman who thinks they have all that they need. You are reaching the hurting. And the only thing they need is Jesus.”

A good reminder for us all.  A good reminder for myself- that I need Jesus.  When I get caught up in the divisiveness of the church right now, I need Jesus.  When we have days where we feel we might want to give up on this church thing, we need Jesus.  When we are struggling with health issues or we are helping a loved one through a tough time, we need Jesus.  When we are grieving, we need Jesus.

We need Jesus.  But today’s scripture lesson reminds us that yes, we need Jesus, but others need him, too.  We can’t keep him to ourselves.  That is not why he came.  So, church, let’s give them Jesus- those outside of this place who are hurting, isolated, grieving, lonely, addicted, feeling rejected, hungry, or poor in spirit.  For when we set Jesus free, we can only imagine the miracles we might witness right here in our own communities and the healing that will occur.

In what ways do you need Jesus today?  In what ways might you be holding him back?  How will you give him to someone else?


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Why Church?

In today’s ever-changing culture, it seems that people are finding meaning and community, even spirituality, in places other than the church.  Churches notoriously struggle with attracting “millenials,” young adults, and families with children.  Church has become in irrelevant, hypocritical, and a place with not much to offer, according to much of the population.  So, why do I, as a 35 year old woman, wife, mom (and yes, a pastor) still see church as vital and central to my life?

I confess to you that there are times when I wonder why I remain in the church as a clergy person, especially when it seems that at times we are always fighting uphill battles or arguing over the color of the carpet, type of worship music, or lately, arguing over human sexuality rather than doing the actual work of Jesus Christ. I know that I am not alone when I ponder what else I might do if I was not in the ministry.

But then, I realize that there is something about the church that calls me right back.  Even if I was not a pastor, I don’t think I could stay away from church.  I don’t think that I could stay away from God.  Like that prevenient grace that we talk about in our United Methodist doctrine, the grace of God is constantly going before us, drawing us back in, reminding us that we cannot go far from God’s presence and love.

And that is why church.  That is why ministry.  Church is the place where we go to experience God (perhaps for the first time) and to be in the rich fellowship of other human beings who are also walking through this complicated and messy thing called life and who are asking the same questions we all are.  We don’t always agree, we worry about unimportant and petty things, we have lots of meetings, we feel at times that nothing changes, yes there is pain and brokenness…yet we “do church” because we feel called to places where hope is preached and practiced, where the weight of the world is lifted, if only for awhile, where healing is possible, where people share our deepest pains, where we extend a hand of hospitality, where we pray for one another, even though we don’t really understand how it all works.

We “do church” because people love on our children, watch them grow up, and sneak them their favorite cookies.  Church will tell them about Jesus through songs, lessons, and hopefully by modeling the kind of love that all children deserve.  We “do church” because ideally, it is a safe space for children to explore, ask questions, and be a part of an extended family.  We “do church” with our kids because even from an early age, they are listening.  (Our 2 year old already asks about going to church each week- PK success!)

We “do church” because we need to be reminded that there is peace in the midst of war, healing in the midst of pain, and calm in the storm.  We “do church” because we are reminded of the stories of Jesus, who even in death, showed us the way to life.  We hear stories of how God redeems and welcomes the lost, heals those who are broken, and who brings even dry bones back from the dead.  We come to hear music that moves us, words that challenge us, and friendships that bring us back to where we need to be.  Church is home.  God is home.

I read an article several months ago about how “your church does not need to put in a coffee bar to attract young people…just preach the gospel.”  What a concept.  Preach the good news in a world full of bad news. Give them Jesus.  The real Jesus.  Not the judgmental, closed-minded, and closed-off Jesus.  Give them the Jesus of radical love, who challenged the powers and political scene of the day to make room for a message of grace and peace, who lifted up the poor and oppressed, who healed the sick and anointed the lowly, and who died for the cause.  Give them that Jesus.

I know I will strive to live up to the calling that has been placed on my life, as it is a profound privilege and responsibility to “preach the gospel” and “give them Jesus” in today’s ever-changing and broken world.  I challenge anyone who says that the church is irrelevant, because how is a place that is preaching peace, hope, and love out of place today?  We need these words now more than ever.  We need these stories now more than ever.  Will you be a part of it?

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Terrorism…what is it exactly?

I was kept awake for part of last night- not (miraculously!) because of my 2 year old who doesn’t like to sleep, but because of the many thoughts I’ve been having about the world lately.  In particular, another mass shooting- this time, at a church.  Naturally, this once again led to discussions around gun control, mental illness, and a broken society around our country.  But it also has led to another discussion about what exactly “terrorism” is.  Does terrorism have a religion?  A cause?  A color?  A gender?  A certain group?  A particular agenda?  These are all questions people are asking.

After the Las Vegas shooting, I was struggling to understand how this man who killed dozens of innocent people was not being defined as a “terrorist.”  So, like I usually do, I called my mom to ask her what she thought.  Her words have stuck with me.  All political speak aside, simply put, terrorism is anything that invokes fear in masses of people.  It doesn’t matter if the person or group committing the act of violence is white, black, brown, male, female, rich, poor….if they are causing fear throughout a nation, in families, in places of worship, in movie theaters, shopping malls, concerts….it is terrorism.

Because of terrorism, I’ve had several conversations with church members this week about how we can keep people safe in our worship on Sunday mornings.  A church that hopes to practice “Open hearts, open minds, open doors,” is having to have conversations around which doors and when to lock them before or during worship time because of fear- fear that while we are worshiping a peaceful, loving, and merciful God, that someone could come in and take us out.  It’s happened before, and probably will happen again.

Because of terrorism, I had to have a conversation with my husband about what we would do as a family if an active shooter came into church on a Sunday morning.  How would we get to Xavier?  What would he do?  What would I do?  As a pastor, how would I handle the fear and anxiety of myself and my people, and possibly grief and loss on a massive scale?

Because of terrorism, I have daily thoughts about what I would do if, while grocery shopping at Walmart with my son, there was an active shooter situation.  How would I keep Xavier safe?  What would we do? How would we survive?  And how would we deal with the trauma afterward?

Because of terrorism, I think about how I will have to raise my child in a fearful world, where guns are available to just about anyone, and that includes just about anyone with evil intentions for any reason.  Because of terrorism, I will have to teach my son to be very aware of his surroundings, and that he isn’t even safe walking on a sidewalk or enjoying a meal on an outside patio in a busy city for fear of someone barreling through with a vehicle with intent to kill.  I am fearful for the world he is growing up in.

That’s what terrorism is.  That’s what terrorism does.  Let’s not fool ourselves or get tangled up in semantics about what it is and what it is not, who is defined as a terrorist and who is not.  Terrorism makes people fearful to live their everyday lives.  Let’s name it for what it is.

As a pastor and a Jesus follower, I know that I am supposed to be about hope, love, forgiveness, and peace.  And I am.  But I have to admit that it’s getting harder and harder to preach this message some weeks.  But I’ll keep doing it anyway, until I can fully believe it for myself.  Because if I don’t keep believing and preaching it, terrorism has won.  After all, we worship and serve a God who brings life out of death, hope out of despair, and beauty out of the ugliness.  May this God help us to live our lives without fear, to find joy and hope in the beautiful things in our lives, and to be agents of hope and peace in this dark and broken world.

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Beautiful Feet (and thoughts on Charlottesville)

Rev. Jill Howard

“Beautiful Feet,” August 13, 2017

Romans 10:5-15

5 Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” 6 But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say?

“The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11 The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13 For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

14 But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? 15 And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”


Hi, my name is Jill, and I am addicted to shoes!  It’s true.  One look at my closet will reveal that perhaps I have a shoe problem.  But I recently stumbled upon a journal of research in personality that says that 90% of your personality could be revealed by your choice of footwear.  Either they are onto something, or someone just needed a good excuse to buy more shoes.  I’ll go with that explanation.

Anyway, the study revealed that people who wear colorful sneakers tend to be emotionally stable.  High top shoes are popular with people who tend to be introverted, agreeable, and conscientious.  If you have well-kept high fashion shoes, you tend to be worried about relationships.  If you like wearing biker style boots, you may be more tough and aggressive.

And finally, women, if you like wearing your stiletto heels, you may have a vivid personality, a desire for attention, high self-confidence, and probably excessive body aches and muscle fatigue.  If these findings are true, then I must have multiple personalities!  The study didn’t say anything about people who have each kind of shoe in their closet!

Whether you agree with these findings about footwear or not, I think we might agree that footwear sends a message, just as much as the clothing you wear, and just as much as the cross around your neck, or the prayer shawl or yarmulke worn by a Jewish person, or a hijab worn by a Muslim woman.  These are examples of religious badges or symbols that remind us and tell others that we are part of a particular group.  These are faith badges should send a positive message.  And since our feet carry our bodies out into the world, they, too should be bearers of good news.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul declares, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” Have you ever really looked at feet? Feet are strange, and flappy looking appendages.  Xavier loves looking at his toes and thinks they are funny. It takes a lot of literary imagination to describe such bulbous buniony creations as “beautiful.” I guess that’s where a good pair of shoes comes in.

But Paul didn’t need a shoe personality study in order to encourage the Roman Christians to carry the good news.  Christians, says Paul, should have feet that reveal the good news of Jesus Christ and the saving grace of God to the rest of the world.  He’s not just talking about feet of course, but the way we present ourselves through our attitudes, our words, our actions, and through the telling of our stories.  Each of these are the faith badges we wear, as visible as the shoes on our feet or the cross around our neck.

In fact, research has shown that people see these faith badges or symbols a signs of reliability.  An anthropologist named Richard Sosis and his colleagues gathered a variety of pictures of people wearing a variety of religious symbols, and mixed them with pictures of people without religious symbols.  A diverse group of university students looked at the stack of photos and rated each of the faces for trustworthiness.  They also played a game in which they entrusted money to the ones they perceived as being honorable.

The result was that people wearing Christian badges prompted powerful feelings of trust.  If a person was wearing a cross, it doubled the money that non-Christians were willing to offer someone in the trust game.  And other studies show that the same is true for ANY religious symbol.  Whether you are a Muslim, Jew, or a Hindu, the outer sign of your faith commitment is going to improve the way people see you (Homiletics).

Religious badges certainly tell a story. Let’s take a look at some common ones. Jews wear yarmulkes as a sign of recognition that someone is above them at all times, especially while in prayer.  It is the Jewish tradition that the head should be covered as a reminder of God’s presence and as a symbol of being a part of the Jewish faith.

Muslim women wear the hijab (which is Arabic for “cover”) for a variety of reasons.  Some wear the hijab because they believe that God has instructed women to wear it as a means of fulfilling the commandment for modesty. For these women, wearing hijab is a personal choice that is made after puberty and is intended to reflect one’s personal devotion to God. While some Muslim women do not perceive the hijab to be obligatory to their faith, other Muslim women wear the hijab as a means of visibly expressing their Muslim or cultural identity.  Most Muslim women agree that it is a woman’s choice to wear the hijab or not.  It is her choice how she expresses her faith or cultural identity.

In the Hindu tradition, the religious badge of the Bindi expresses the tradition that all people have a third inner eye; the two physical eyes are used for seeing the external world, while the third focuses inward toward God.  The red dot signifies piety as well as serving as a constant reminder to keep God at the center of one’s thoughts. The red bindi also signifies marriage and social status.  Bindis of all colors are also worn by women of all ages as a simple fashion accessory in today’s South Asian culture.

And finally, the cross of Christianity tells a story- our story of a loving Savior who shows us the ultimate example of sacrificial love, mercy, and forgiveness.  We have to make sure that the faith badge of our choosing includes and tells the story of our own relationship with God.  We have to be willing to bring it from the inside to the outside so that others can clearly see what Jesus means to us.  In Paul’s terms, our beautiful feet better be ready to bring the good news.

But what happens when religious badges or symbols become something to fear or turn into signs of evil?  Yesterday, in Charlottesville, VA, we witnessed people carrying Nazi flags, signs condemning blacks and Jews, and people acting out in horrible and violent ways.  Let’s be clear.  Carrying the Nazi flag is evil.  That flag is a symbol of an evil, failed state that brutally killed more than six million Jews and countless Romani people, homosexuals and others judged to be inferior (Bishop Michael McKee).  When I stood on the grounds of Auschwitz several years ago, I felt as if evil continued to seep through the earth and buildings of that place.  Those who sacrificed their lives in World War II attempted to defeat that evil.

Let’s be clear.  Our country witnessed the evil, sin, and hatred of racism and intolerance in Charolottesville yesterday- and some of those who gathered did so in the “name of Jesus and under the cross of Christ.”  This is Matthew Heimbach (picture shown)- the lead organizer in yesterday’s deadly “Unite the Right” rally.  This 26 year old calls Indiana home and calls himself a Christian. Here is one of the MANY reasons that we, who profess the cross of Jesus, MUST stand against those who corrupt and twist its message into words and acts of hatred.

In times such as these, we need to pick our symbols carefully and intentionally.  We need to consider the shoes we wear, so that our feet will indeed be beautiful feet that carry the real Jesus, the real cross, the message of grace and truth out into the world.

Late last night, Bishop Trimble of Indiana sent out a response to the horrors unfolding in Charlottesville.  In it, he says,

For the world to get anything from us (as people who follow Christ), we must be honest and truthful. We cannot avoid naming or calling out what is evil in its purest form ever manifested. Naming hate, injustice, and the sin of “-ism” is the only way for us to tackle the forces that would divide us and that would have any one of us believe that there is less opportunity to reach our highest God-given potential because of one group of people or another.

Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of Just Mercy, said in an interview earlier this year, “In faith perspectives, to get to salvation — at least in the Christian tradition — you have to repent. There is no redemption without acknowledgment of sin. It’s not bad to repent. It’s cleansing. It’s necessary. It’s ultimately liberating to acknowledge where we were and where we want to go. We haven’t done that collectively.”

As our communities continue to wrestle with senseless acts of violence, as well as a recent rise in snakes that many thought to be dead and gone or at least they lied dormant in their appearance for years – it is the Church who can help unite and break down barriers and free those who are chained by society or by their own views, born in the falsity, that any human being is less than another.

So as the Body of Christ, I implore each of you to join me in living Truth by:

  1. Sharing this in your congregation, communities, mission fields, workplaces, at your dinner tables, and beyond in the days ahead;
  2. Recommitting to the vows that we took for our membership as United Methodists and at our baptisms, where the question is- Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?
  3. Being living examples of the peace of which we are praying for in every corner of the world.
  4. Remembering that we are all united in Christ, who crosses all boundaries of race, ethnicity, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic class, religion, etc.

So today may we not be afraid to speak out against sin and injustice, racism and oppression in whatever form they present themselves.  In a world where so often the feet that bring us the news are ugly and evil, let’s put on our shoes of courage, tolerance, truth, and justice, and show the world our beautiful feet.  We might need to begin with repentance.

We might need to spend a lot of time in prayer.  We might need to begin with a reminder that for those of us called to live the gospel message in times such as this, that the world needs the church and we need the world, because neither of us can survive without the other.  And the world is in deep need of beautiful feet to carry the message of love, tolerance, and mercy for all persons.

Shane Claiborne, a Christian activist, author, and founder of a modern monastic community in Philadelphia, shares an inspiring story about his time with Mother Teresa in Calcutta.  He noticed that when Mother Teresa took her shoes off for daily prayer, that her feet were knobby and deformed. He eventually asked someone what was wrong with Mother Teresa’s feet. The person explained that Mother Teresa and her sisters relied on donations for everything, including their shoes. When a load of donated shoes would come in, Mother Teresa consistently chose the worst pair of shoes for herself.

In sharing the good news of Jesus Christ to the poor, broken, and hurting, Mother Teresa’s feet literally became a symbol of sacrificial love and healing.  These were beautiful feet.


What transforms feet into things of beauty is not a pedicure, or a $200 pair of sneakers or high heels.  What transforms them is the message they carry.  When feet are involved in the mission of bringing the good news to all people, Jew and Greek, rich and poor, male and female, black and white,  then they become beautiful feet, no matter what kind of shoes you prefer or what they might say about your personality.

I guess Marilyn Monroe had it right when she said, “Give a girl the right pair of shoes, and she can conquer the world!”  So, what kind of shoes will you choose to put on?  What message will you carry out into the world?  May we pray for the strength and courage that God gives each of us to get out there and show the world some beautiful feet.  Amen.

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As one season comes to an end…

Dear Xavier,

19 months…that is how long we have had this special relationship that only a mother and child can have.  19 months of middle of the night feedings, early mornings, and late night snacks.  19 months of snuggles, laughter, mixed with exhaustion, frustration and hard moments.  19 months of remembering those early weeks when I wanted to give up, but you challenged me to continue.  19 months of giving thanks that we have shared in this special time together.  19 months of you looking to me for nourishment, warmth, safety, and security in this special way.  19 months of nursing.

I never thought we would make it this far.  Those first few weeks were the hardest of my life.  We couldn’t quite get it right all the time, you cried, I cried, we were so tired, you were so hungry, I was just trying to provide for you.  But when we finally got the hang of this nursing thing, away we went- 2 peas in a pod, 2 dancers who finally learned the steps, mother and son sharing in what we were meant to do.  We looked forward to our special time whether 2 am or 2 pm, whether for 5 minutes or 2 hours.  And now that this season is coming to an end, I give thanks.  Looking back on it all, I wouldn’t have traded these countless hours for anything else in the world.

I feel sad, happy, accomplished, free, nostalgic, and a bit hesitant in knowing that we will have to learn and find new ways to bond-  all the while knowing that you may not remember all of those countless hours we spent together- but I believe that in the depth of your soul, you will remember what we shared, and together, we will carry this in our hearts and into the next season of our lives.  I love you, Xavier.

Love, Baba


A Prayer for the End of Nursing: Rev. Rachel Wrenn

O Lord, you have searched me
and known me.

You knew the moment when that sweet baby skin
first touched my chest
when that sweet little mouth
gaped like a fish
when that shocking moment of connection was made:
Mother. Child. One.
You knew.

You knew the struggles, and the pain.
The mostly sleepless nights
The one- (two-) (three-) (three-thirty-) a.m. wake-up calls.
The disconcerting, disorientating, barely-functioning
And still
the sweet baby skin and the gaping little mouth
the instant peace and the murmuring suckling.
You knew.

You knew the feeling of miracle
that awesome moment of realization
that exactly what they need
is exactly what I have in me
and everything that is me
(milk, body, heart, arms)
is given freely to sustain and nurture their life
—and then that awe-full moment of recognition
of deeper appreciation
for the words “this is my body,
given for you.”
This is my body, given for them.
You knew.

You knew the rhythms and the hours
of nursing and pumping
of sleeping and snuggling
of crying and impatience and the frantic, shaky, waving tiny hands
as the shirt gets caught
or the store clerk goes too slow
or a hundred other impediments leap up
between the present moment and MILKRIGHTNOW!
You knew.

You knew the feeling of panic
the counting of bags in the freezer
of hours between pumpings
of ounces in the bottle
of months/weeks/days
until this all could be DONE
secretly knowing how hard it would be
for it all to end.
You knew.

You knew the feeling of gratitude
for those rosy lips, parted in sleep
for that instant smile when we’ve been apart
for the feeling of expansion
of my heart
of my life
of yet another way I will live out my vocation as your child
by stewarding and tending and nurturing my own child;
the awesomeness of being part of your Creation—
quite literally.
You knew.

You knew the twinge
the first twinge
that first moment when they start to pull away
when the solids that were rejected
or tasted and then used as hair gel
become interesting, delicious, good
and the sessions of sleepy suckling snuggling
start to lessen.
You knew.

And you know now
The feeling of wrenching
of tearing
of separateness
because it all is done.
The sadness, the mourning, the loss
interwoven with the relief, the joy, the pride
the cords of reassurance and the embroidery of gratitude
that we made it this far in the breastfeeding marathon
that I gave them this much
that this experience of oneness, of miracle, of struggle
of sleepy suckling snuggling
will live on in my body
as they once lived in my body:
nourished, cherished, cradled
in a safe place of sweet memory and thanksgiving
You know.

And so:
give me comfort
give me peace
give me reassurance
that though this type of sustenance is through
my hands, my body, my heart, my spirit will still be needed
to feed
to quench
to tend
to care
for them.

Just as you do for me.

You knit me together in my mother’s womb:
knit my heart together now.


Posted in Clergy women, Parenthood | 2 Comments

What did the pastor do now? (Family Friendly Worship Space)

“But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” -Luke 18:16

When I started ministry at my current congregation last summer, the youth director and I had a dream- a space in the sanctuary where kids and families, along with the older people in the church, could gather in worship and spend time together.  On Easter Sunday, after removing (gasp!) a few pews, that dream became a reality: The Family Friendly Worship Space.

You may have seen different versions of this being done at churches- I’ve seen them called “Praygrounds,” among other things.  Well, this is our version.  Each week, our youth/children’s director puts out coloring and activity sheets that relate to the sermon I am preaching, along with the children’s bibles open to the scripture of the week.  We also have activity bags filled with a variety of things for the children to do during worship, and we have other toys and quiet activities around the space as well.  I think it has potential to evolve and include more in the future.

We have found that the kids and their families enjoy going to the space and are engaging in worship more because of it.  We still offer children’s church following the children’s sermon, but some still choose to stay in the family friendly space instead.  We have especially found that families with kids who are visiting family/parents for the weekend are excited to see that there is a place for their kids to go in the sanctuary where they feel comfortable and welcomed.  I even had someone tell me that this space “softens” the sanctuary and makes it more warm and inviting.  Success!

There has been some push back on this of course.  It’s near the front of the church, off to the side, and some say it’s distracting.  And it has to do with that scary word, CHANGE, again.  I get it.  But any church that wants more young families and children needs to be open to this kind of new way of thinking about how we invite children to worship.  We need to be okay with a little noise, perhaps a little chaos from time to time if we are serious about making church an intergenerational and welcoming community.  I think that the days of sending our kids off during the worship service may be nearing their end.  This is an alternative for those who want children to engage in worship and to be a part of the worshiping community.

For me, this little space is a glimpse of the Kingdom.  Would you try it at your church?

Family Friendly Worship Space Q & A

Where is the Family Friendly Worship Space?

-down by the piano in the sanctuary

What is there?

-tables for coloring, Bibles to read, and activities for children

-the Busy Bags

-toys for younger children

-places for children to sit with their parents

-other items for babies, moms and dads, and their needs

Who may use it?

-anyone from ages 0-100!

Why a family friendly worship space?

-We want children to be an active part of worship! This means that they will have the chance to read the Bible story that is being presented, do a coloring activity, and listen to the worship service, music, and preaching.

-We want to be welcoming to families with young children and give them a space of their own where parents and children can be in worship together

-We want to offer an alternative to children’s church, should the child not want to participate for any reason

-Would you rather our children color and reflect on a Bible story or play on their iPhone during church? This gives them a better alternative for our worship time together…

Won’t it be distracting?

-Maybe- but you may be surprised at how the children will learn and play quietly in church- they want to be active worship participants

-If you find yourself distracted, please feel free to sit somewhere else where you feel that you will not be!

-We say we are a church who wants young families and children- so we must adjust our mindset to welcome the sights and sounds of children in worship– Jesus says of the little children, “Let them come to me. Do not hinder them.”

We look forward to sharing the Family Friendly Worship space with you! Try it for yourself and invite children and families to participate!

Posted in Church, Sermons | Leave a comment