The Body of Christ Has Always Been Virtual

Author’s notes: This is the third installment in an occasional series.  You can find the first one, where I reflect on what the movie Dirty Dancing taught me about returning to in person worship, by clicking here.

Four years ago, I met Deanna A. Thompson at a writing workshop.  Consider this reference to her excellent book The Virtual Body of Christ in a Suffering World to be a footnote to this entire piece.

 

 

“Christ has no body but yours….”  Attributed to St Teresa of Avila

 

“The Body of Christ is happening virtually whether or not the church acknowledges it.”  From a conversation between Deanna and an unnamed seminary professor.

 

“The church has not been unwilling to make do with less than fully-embodied theological exchange in the past. Why should we be less brave now?”  Jason Byassee[1]

 

Deanna Thompson was skeptical of technology and proud of it. She didn’t have a cell phone, her kids didn’t have cell phones and she was proud of it.

But then she was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.

Her brother offered to create an online social network through CaringBridge so that even when they could not be physically present with her, her friends and family could continue to connect with and care for her.

Through that experience, Deanna experienced a conversation and shifted from being a digital skeptic to an evangelist.   She describes this shift in her book The Virtual Body of Christ in a Suffering World.   In addition to being an evangelist for Christ’ Virtual Body, Deanna is also a theologian and so her book is both a memoir and a theological exploration.  It is well worth reading.

One of the ideas that struck me from Deanna’s book is her explanation that the church has always been virtual.  After Jesus’ ascension, his followers became his representatives here on earth.  We became Christ’s body. People are supposed to see Christ in us.

While face to face interactions and Agape meals were surely hallmarks of those early Christian communities, Jesus was not present in bodily form and in most cases, neither were the earliest church leaders.

People didn’t need to wait for Peter or Paul to appear on the scene in person in order to begin.  And they didn’t need to wait for Peter or Paul to be present with them in person in order to learn from those leaders and grow in their faith.   They received letters.  Paul’s primary ministry was a virtual one.

If you look at the Bible, the last section is filled with these letters. Not all of them written by Paul, but all of them written by people who were not physically present to the people they were writing to.  We also know that the letters we have retained in the Bible represent only a small percentage of the letters that were likely being written at the time. (We don’t, for example, have the letters that communities wrote to Paul, only his responses.)

The same is true of later church leaders. We don’t interact with them face to face, we don’t have records of their spoken interactions, we have their letters, we have their written prayers. We have their virtual communication with the body of Christ.

My role as a priest can trace its origins back to this virtual body.  As the church began to institutionalize and grow the Bishop couldn’t be everywhere at once so he (and it was always a he at that time) was present with communities virtually through representatives who came on his behalf bringing bread and wine the bishop had blessed previously.   When I preside at worship, I still do so as a representative of my bishop.

Throughout my life I have had strong connections to the universal church and Christ’s virtual body.  My faith is strengthened by people I will never meet in person, many of whom died long before I was born, but who wrote of their experiences with Christ in ways I find compelling.

When I left home for university I knew that my church family back home prayed for me regularly. Those prayers and the cards and letters I received meant a great deal to me.

When I was ordained, friends I know mainly from online interactions participated in the livestream of my ordination and gifted me with a beautiful green stole.  I think of them every time I put in on and feel their love and support.

And while I miss worshipping in person with people and want to be able to do so again, I am increasingly being convicted by just how much of my privilege is reflected in that longing. For most of my life attending in person worship has always been my choice. I have never experienced any real barriers to attendance. But now, on a regular basis, truths are being made visible that had previously been invisible to me. They were always true, I just didn't notice them. My experience is not everyone’s experience.  In person worship has never been accessible to everyone. For some people it’s geography, or the weather, or disability, or race, or age, or gender, or sexuality or a combination of factors.

Last week I received a note from someone who told me that they have never felt more connected to God and to the church than they have since worship shifted to being online.  It was not the first, and likely not the last note I will receive expressing that sentiment.

My hope for the future is for a church where we consistently seek to connect people to God and remove barriers that prevent people from doing so.  I hope for a church where worship will be offered both in person and online, and where both will be seen as good and valuable.  I hope for a church were our worship will strengthen our sense of connection with the person sitting next to us, the person commenting in the chat section, and the saints that have gone before us. I hope for a church where we will increasingly recognize that we are all part of Christ’s body.

This week I received a letter in the mail from a dear friend I haven’t seen in several years. My name and address were written on the envelope by a shaky hand.  This senior gentleman is both monk and a priest who has been a supporter of my ministry since we first met.  I ran my hand over the writing on the envelope and kissed it before I opened it. It contained a prayer and a blessing for me as I navigate priestly ministry during these difficult times.  And while I long to see him in person and hold his hand, I do not believe that his blessing is any less powerful because it arrived in the form of a letter.

He asked me if we were having “alive” services and when I write him back I will tell him, “We most certainly are! They’re all online and they are lively. Here’s the link, join us for worship anytime. And thanks for sharing the link to your services, it has been a gift to be able to participate in them.”

The body of Christ is a virtual body. Thanks be to God.

 

[1] https://faithandleadership.com/jason-byassee-virtual-theological-education


I have a confession to make...

Author's notes: This is the second in an occasional series.  You can find the first one, where I reflect on what the movie Dirty Dancing taught me about returning to in person worship, by clicking here.

Cathie Caimano, who I reference in this article, provides amazing resources for the church and I highly recommend you get to know her and her work. Click here to learn more about Cathie.

 

I have a confession to make: I get nervous when people say the word “obviously.”

Usually whatever they say next is not obvious. At least not to me.

I’ve been hearing that word a lot lately. Oftentimes it’s in a discussion about online church or virtual worship.
“Obviously,” they’ll say, “online worship is inferior to in person worship.” Or perhaps they’ll take it even further and say, “online anything is always inferior to being in person.”

Before we go any further, can we all admit that we’re currently engaged in a very privileged conversation.? My ability to write and distribute this and your ability to read and engage with it is a function of our privilege. Let’s have the conversation but let’s also try to check our privilege whenever we can.

There have always been people who have not been able to consistently access in person worship. Prior to COVID when online worship options increased exponentially, that meant they either never had a corporate experience of worship, or that experience was online. What are we saying about those people and their experiences when we say that online is inferior?

I’ve also had some horrible in person interactions in my life, and some amazing virtual ones. I don’t think one way of interacting is better than the other, they’re just different.

COVID is forcing me to think about these things in new ways. Now there is a team sharing the work, but for months I led online services seven days a week. I never imagined a world where that was possible. Where I would sing into my computer. I did not want to be a televangelist when I grew up.

But I’m also so grateful for the connections and the deepening commitment to a regular prayer practice that online worship is creating for me and the community who gather every day. I’m learning to see the beauty and the power of building community virtually.

I need better language to explain my experiences. To help me understand what God is up to and to help me explain it to others as well and I’m writing this series of occasional posts to help me do just that. (You can find the first one on what Dirty Dancing taught me about in person worship by clicking here.)

I’m not writing to convince anyone who doesn’t want to engage in online worship that they have to, but if you fit in this category I do hope you’ll at least be willing to drop the “obviously.”

For today, let’s think a bit about the language we use. I use the term “virtual” but I don’t like it because the notion of inferiority is baked into the term. Virtual already sounds less than which doesn’t accurately describe many people’s experiences in the virtual world, including my own. Virtual bread is not real bread. But virtual community is real community.

Cathie Caimano helped shape my thinking when she pointed out to me that “online” is also an incredibly broad term. Saying you like or don’t like being “online” is the same as saying you like or don’t like being outside. It encompasses a whole lot of things. If you don’t like being outside, or online, what exactly do you mean? Which parts are you talking about?

Do you dislike sitting by a lake or walking in the rain or waiting for the bus? Do you actually dislike every single thing about being outside?

Similarly, being online could include emailing someone, talking to your grandkids on Facetime, watching a movie using a streaming service. Do you actually hate every single thing about being online?

For most people, the pandemic has increased our online engagement whether we like it or not. Church, work, and even doctor’s appointments now occur online instead of in person. The latest news from medical experts tells us that we can expect this to be our normal for at least the next couple of years.

The next couple of years.

This is hard, it’s so very hard and I never want to pretend that it’s not. But I also believe that it’s going to be harder for people who refuse to engage online.

Can we explore this new normal with curiosity? Can we be honest about what we miss about being able to gather in person whenever we want to while simultaneously asking, what are the gifts of being online?

Here’s one. In the time before, I knew someone who would often call me in crisis asking if I could meet with them that day. Because we both assumed the only way we could meet effectively was in person, in order to say yes to his request, I needed to have 3-4 hours available. Meeting meant I needed to drive to the opposite side of town, pay for parking etc. So more often than not I said no. I rarely have an open block of 3-4 hours in a day.

Now, thanks to Zoom, I usually say yes because I usually can free up forty-five minutes to an hour in my day. So this person’s access to pastoral care has increased dramatically as has my overall sense that I am doing a good job and not letting him down. Oh, and my carbon footprint and work expenses have also decreased dramatically.

It’s likely that if you are reading this you have the privilege to ask the questions, “What do I like or dislike about being online?” Not everyone does. For some people this pandemic means sheltering in place, alone with no way of connecting with others. As we think critically about the virtual world, we should always remember that we are in a place of immense privilege. Now more than ever access to the internet should be a basic human right.

But you’re here, so it’s more than likely that this week will find you online. Will you join me in a contemplative experience? Throughout the week take some time to reflect on your experiences of being online, with email, with the telephone, with online worship. What was lifegiving? What wasn’t? Jot those noticings down. At the end of the week, look at what you’ve written and see what you notice. Are there any themes? Anything to express gratitude for? Anything you might want to change?

What might we learn if we drop the “obviously” and engage online with curiosity?

I’m not sure, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

 

This was the second post in an occasional series.  Click here to read the next post.


I Carried a Watermelon: What Dirty Dancing Taught Me About Returning to In Person Worship

The first time I saw Dirty Dancing I was 12 years old.  The details are fuzzy – how did we get a copy of a PG-13 movie? – but I remember arranging a sleepover with a friend that began by babysitting a neighbour’s child.  We popped the tape into the VCR after the child went to sleep and stayed poised ready to jump and turn off the TV if they woke up or their parents came home early. We wanted to watch the movie, but we didn’t want anyone to know we were watching it.  As I Mennonite knew I needed to hide the film and I also I knew the title was a bit over the top, all dancing is dirty. Obviously.

My favourite viewing of Dirty Dancing happened in 2017. It was a special screening for the 30th anniversary of the film’s release. The theater was packed with fans. We laughed and shouted all the classic lines at the top of our lungs:

“I carried a watermelon?”

“No one puts Baby in a corner!”

My most recent viewing of Dirty Dancing was a few days ago.  Even though going to the movies is one of my all-time favourite things to do, I haven’t been since early March.  Movie theaters have only recently re-opened here with reduced capacity, extra cleaning, and the mind boggling request that we please remove our own garbage after the film. (Because even though I know people rarely do, I think this is something we should all have been doing all along.)

I bought my ticket online a few days in advance but I didn’t actually decide I was going to go until a few minutes before I got in my car. The ticket was only $3 and I gave myself a lot of room to change my mind at the last minute. A final check that confirmed they hadn’t sold very many tickets sealed the deal.

I could tell you a bunch of high minded reasons why I wanted to go, and they’d all be true.  I wanted to practice being in a public space before I returned to work. I wanted to know how I’d feel being in a room with strangers.

But I also just wanted to see a movie in a theater. To feel normal.

I saw a movie; it didn’t feel normal.

This was not a normal night at the movies because normal is gone, and I don’t think it’s ever coming back.  I’m sure we will find ways to enjoy movies and live theater  and worship together in person again but we’re moving towards a new normal, we’re not going back to our old normal.

Although this was not the theater’s fault, I found the entire process stressful, navigating new procedures, trying to social distance, being frustrated with every single other person in the theater who all seemed to have forgotten how to be out in public. All eight of them!  (Why are you taking a phone call on speaker phone? Why are you ignoring the arrows? Why are you breathing SO loud?)

When Baby arrives at Kellerman’s she’s on her home turf and the confidence shows. She knows this world, its rules and how to navigate that space. But when she enters the world of the Kellerman’s staff her discomfort is palpable. She has no idea what to expect or how to behave.

I resonate strongly with her sense of awkward uncertainty.  I don’t like situations I can’t control, situations where I don’t know the rules or what to expect.  That’s what this stage of the pandemic feels like to me. It’s more stressful than when we locked down.  Lock down had clear reasons and rules, this stage in the journey does not and it’s hard to know what to do.

I went to the movies. Did I have the time of my life? No.  I most certainly did not. But I was grinning from ear to ear underneath my mask when Baby finally nailed that lift so it wasn’t all bad.

Will I be back to the theater anytime soon?  I’m not sure. I can’t stay in my house forever but I also don’t think a movie, any movie, is worth putting myself or others at risk of catching COVID-19.

We need to find new ways to be together. We need to adjust to this new reality and we going to need to be gentle with each other in the process. A gentleness that includes reminding people when they are standing too close and graciously accepting correction when we’re the one at fault.

I haven’t worshipped with my congregation in person since early March. We haven’t set any timelines as of yet but I know we will worship in person again. In the meantime, the thought of it makes me anxious.  I don’t want to put anyone at risk. I don’t want to be that pastor on the news having to explain how we were ground zero for a new outbreak.  I don’t want to do any more funerals than I absolutely need to.

I also know that what we’re returning to isn’t what we’re hoping for.

Towards the end of the film, the owner of Kellerman’s gives a speech lamenting that things are changing and he doesn’t see a future for the resort. It’s not what the kid’s want anymore! I understand that feeling, and I do feel strong waves of grief when I think back on what it used to be like to worship in person with my beloved community.

But I also listened to Kellerman’s speech and thought, “The old ways only served rich white men like you. The system you are lamenting was racist, classist and sexist. Burn it down. Burn it all down.”

Burn Kellerman’s to the ground and build something better. As the church, let’s keep what has always been beautiful and true and let the other things fall away – let’s create worship that is not rooted in colonialism and white cis heteronormative patriarchy.  Let’s lament the past not only because we miss it, but because it contained so many lamentable things.

Anecdotally I’ve heard that when people return to in person worship for the first time they have all the feelings. They are scared, they are anxious, they are excited, they are thrilled to be together again, and then they often feel a lingering sadness that lasts for days.

A few people I know have articulated that – even though they knew that a return to in person worship was not simply turning back the clock to pre-COVID times, some part of them still hoped that it would be.  As long as they weren’t meeting, that hope remained, but the concrete experience of the new ways we gather in person squashed it entirely.  It is not the same.

I don’t think it’s all doom and gloom however. If we allow them to be, times of change can be great times of learning and growth.  My thoughts about the nature of online worship have changed dramatically over these last few months and I’m currently trying to put those thoughts into words which I will share will all of you as soon as they’re ready.

But here are just a few things I have noticed:

 

  • It’s a false binary to say in person worship is good and online worship is bad. We tend to know the pros and cons of in person worship from experience. We are only now learning the pros and cons of online worship.

 

  • Online worship has allowed people to be included who have typically been excluded. People with chronic illnesses that make it difficult to leave their homes, people in remote areas who can’t easily travel to church, folks whose legitimate fears of being poorly treated at church have caused them to choose to remain at home.  All of these people can now safely participate in services because they can participate from their home or their hospital bed and anything that is harmful to their person can end with the click of a button. They have the control now, and that’s a good thing.

 

  • Not everything about the way we used to worship was good. This is a great opportunity for us to rethink why we do what we do.

 

  • God has always wanted us to connect with them all day, every day. By placing too much focus on Sunday worship services we let some of our muscles develop and others grow flabby. We can use this time to exercise those other muscles in the hopes that we’ll emerge from this pandemic with a healthier, more well-rounded relationship with our Creator.

 

I went to a movie this week to dip my toe into the waters of public gatherings and then unexpectedly I find myself leading one of those gatherings tomorrow – a funeral. How will I feel about that experience? I have no idea.

But I’m going to mask up, carry a watermelon and try a new dance. I am going to step on someone’s toes, I won’t nail the lift.  It’s going to be hard and awkward and uncomfortable at first.

I hope we’ll learn these new dances together.  I hope you’ll teach me new things and forgive me when I stumble because even with all my Mennonite DNA, I believe that dancing is worth it.

 

This was the first in an occasional series. Click here to read the second installment.

 


My Buddy Ben

On April 25, 2020 I was asked to lead an online workshop about spiritual direction and creating a Rule of Life for the Diocese of Rupertsland.   It felt both timely and odd, kind of like a lot of things I've been experiencing during the pandemic.  The workshop can be found on my Facebook page, but in it I referenced a series of talks that my colleague Jamie Howison and I gave about St Benedict, his rule, and how to create your own rule in 2017.  I've included links to all three of those talks here for your listening pleasure:


Making Ash: A peek behind the scenes

About a year ago I was having some painting done in my house and I had the following conversation with my painter:

"So, I'm just going to run out to the back yard for a little while, if you see smoke and fire, don't worry about it."

"Um, OK."

"You see, tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and I need to burn these palms in order to make ashes so that tomorrow I can smear them on people's foreheads, look them in the eye, and remind them they are going to die."

Short pause.

"Your job is really weird.  Good. But weird."

 

My job is weird. Good. But weird.

There are all sorts of traditions and practices connected to Lent and Holy Week in the Anglican Church but today I thought I'd walk you through the life cycle of a palm.

First, there is an entire part of this story that I don't really know anything about. For those of us who live in parts of the world where we can't easily grow palms we rely on someone else to grow them and ship them to us.  We buy ours from a local church supply shop, but a friend of mine in North Carolina told me that her church just heads out into the brush behind the church and cuts down as many as they need.

On the Saturday before Palm Sunday, members from the two church congregations that share the building gather together to fold palms. (saint benedict's table rents space in All Saints' Anglican Church. We are two separate congregations but we look to work together whenever it makes sense to do so.)

At this point the palms are green and wet and relatively easy to fold.  Every year I need to re-learn the process but gradually muscle memory kicks in and I can fold the palms without really thinking too much about it.

At our church we fold the palms into simple crosses, but a google search will show you palms transformed into amazing works of art.

 

 

But why do we fold palms in the first place?

One way to answer the question is to point out that when Jesus entered Jerusalem people waved palm branches and we remember this event in his life on Palm Sunday.   (Click here to read last year's Palm Sunday sermon for more details.)

But for me, folding palms goes deeper than a simple commemoration of an event.  You can easily have a Palm Sunday service without spending time and money folding palms.

I have spent my whole life in churches and, while I never heard anyone say this using these exact words, the churches I was raised in believed it was much more important to ensure I had Jesus in my head than my heart.

Being a Christian meant I needed to learn a series of ideas and agree that I believed they were true. It was all about my head.

And those ideas were reflective of a particular way of understanding who Jesus was - a Jesus who was seen through the lens of white, colonial, heteronormative patriarchy.

I'm only just now beginning to come to see just how damaging that was.

One of the ways that this  "inviting Jesus into my head" form of Christianity has been damaging is it ignores the diverse experiences of the people God created.  God created people who are nonverbal, people who will never be able to read or process complex Statements of Faith, people whose first language and ways of connection is through dance and their bodies or the visual arts and surely God wants to be in relationship with these people too.

Which means that there have to be more ways to connect with God than the methods that the churches I grew up in privileged.

So now I try to find as many ways as possible to help people connect. Touching, smelling, and folding palms connects us to God.  Holding them in our hands during the Palm Sunday service as we move our bodies, sing, speak, and listen amplifies that connection.

After the service people will take those crosses home and tuck them in a prayer book, or the corner of a picture frame or a window sill.  They will quickly shrivel and dry as we move through the early days of Holy Week but they'll remain in those spots through the year until we are all reminded a week or two before Ash Wednesday to return them to church to be burned.

The year I was shown how to turn palms into ashes I was overtaken by geeky joy, but this year I almost missed the beauty of the moment in my busyness. I was about to just try and quickly burn the palms before rushing off to the next thing on my to do list when I was overtaken with the difference a few short years could make on my attitude.

So I stopped, collected myself and entered prayerfully into the process. I collected all my supplies - dried palms, several metal bowls, a lighter, a spoon, and a sieve.  This year I also experimented with cutting the palms into smaller pieces before I began.   When the flame hits long curly palm branches the fire can become unruly and hard to control.

 

I went outside and placed the bowl with the palm pieces in the snow on top of my raised vegetable garden.  My garden is in its own Lenten season - dormant and dead, but in a few short months it too will be filled with new life.

As I watched the smoke billow out of the bowl I thought of all the people who had folded, saved, and returned those palms. I thought of the people who would come to our Ash Wednesday liturgies and a feeling of gratitude enveloped me that was thicker than the smoke.

 

Once burned, the palms need to be pressed through a sieve to break up any larger pieces and make them suitable for marking people's foreheads with a tangible sign of their mortality.

"Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return."

 

The first ashes, however, were dispersed earlier then they should be.  It happens every year but I always forget to watch for an unexpected gust of wind that will appear out of nowhere as I pass the ashes through the sieve, disbursing them throughout my neighborhood.

Which is as it should be.


I Hate the Mall

 

How do you celebrate Advent?

Advent is one of my favorite seasons in the church year. I love how it allows me to slow down and live in ways that are out of step with the culture during a season that can be particularly fraught with anxiety and busyness. I hate the mall at the best of times, but especially in December.

A number of years ago my church produced a book of readings and a series of podcasts for Advent.  As I was preparing to preach yesterday I was reminded of that experience.  It was the first time I'd ever been in a sound booth or experienced what it was like to be produced by a professional sound engineer.  I hope you enjoy them.

 

Click here to listen to the podcast.

Click here to purchase our Advent e-book.

 


Take the Doughnut

I’m not exactly sure when I first read Amanda Palmer’s book,The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help, but it was likely during the winter of 2015.

I blogged about the book in the spring of 2015 when I was delighted to come across a street performer dressed as a bride on the streets of Paris a few days before I headed out to walk the Camino de Santiago.

I re-read it about once a year.

And by “read” I actually mean listen, because I prefer the audiobook to the physical one.

Amanda’s voice infuses the text with warmth and humour and she periodically breaks into song. Plus her Neil Gaiman impression is delightful.

I re-listen to the book about once a year because I think it’s one of the best books on pastoral ministry I’ve ever read.

If you know anything about Amanda that may surprise you, it might surprise her even, but that doesn’t make it any less accurate.

In the book, she talks about Henry David Thoreau and the myth of the independent artist.

You may, like me, be most familiar with Thoreau’s work because it’s quoted in the film Dead Poet’s Society. He’s Mr. “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.”

He’s also famous for writing about his choice to withdraw from society and live alone on the banks of Walden Pond.

But do you know the truth?

He wasn’t all that independent.

He borrowed the land from a rich neighbour. His friends had him over for dinner regularly and the women in his life delivered freshly baked goods every Sunday.

His mother and his sister brought him food every Sunday, including freshly baked doughnuts.

Doughnuts.

Mr. “I went to the woods to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life…” may have written those worlds while munching on a freshly baked doughnut.  A doughnut he didn’t make or even leave his desk to go buy.  It was delivered right to him.

Amanda then makes a strong and impassioned case that we should all learn to take the doughnuts.

People want to help, she argues. So learn to ask.  And learn to accept help when it’s offered.

Take the doughnut.

As I am writing this I am also sitting next to a body of water but I’m no more independent than Thoreau.

The cabin belongs to friends, and my mom delivered a care package full of food to my home just before I left to come here.  (No doughnuts, but there was a package labelled “spinach brownies.” If you think I am funny, you should meet my mom. She’s hilarious.)

I took the help that was offered.  It’s not easy, but I’m learning.

You may not know it, but you actually have a doughnut and I’m asking you to share it with me.

I have written 1.23 books, neither of which are published. You can read more about the first book here.

People who know about these things say that they’re good. Publishable. Worth reading.

But in the modern publishing world, that’s not enough.  Publishers also need to know that there is a critical mass of people who want to buy a book before they will be willing to publish that book.

And here’s where you come in.

I need to build the biggest list of potential readers that I possibly can.

You can be one of those readers.

I’m asking you to go to my website and sign up for my email list.

You’ll get periodic updates and I’ll never share your information with anyone.

This is the single more effective way to support my work.   It’s not just any doughnut, it’s a doughnut with sprinkles on top.

And I’m asking you to share it with me.


Pastoring While Female: Right Gifts, Wrong Package

The monk with the kind eyes…

Stop it.

The monk with the kind eyes…

Seriously, that’s enough.

The monk with the kind eyes…

 This is NOT funny.

The monk with the kind eyes…

Fine.  I give up. I’ll write the story of the monk with the kind eyes. The monk who, by asking one innocent question,  unveiled multiple layers of trauma and changed the trajectory of my life forever.

In the winter of 2016, I spent a few months as a short term scholar at the Collegeville Institute researching and writing about the varied ways that Benedictine spirituality has influenced my life and work.

As part of that process I committed to praying the Daily Office with the monastic community at St John’s Abbey.  2-3 times a day I put down whatever I was doing, put on layers and layers of winter clothing and trudged up the hill to the church.

I loved praying with the community, and I miss it to this day, but I also hold them responsible for inspiring me to write a book I definitely didn’t want to write.

We’d pray and I’ve leave to go back to my apartment to resume work on my project but instead of lines from the psalms or a new research question,  I would find myself mulling over the same line again and again and again: “The monk with the kind eyes…”

I made a valiant effort to shake off that line and the accompanying story from my own life, but finally it because clear that the only way to get the story out of my head was to put in onto the page.

I had no idea that it would become my book Pastoring While Female: Right Gifts, Wrong Package.

But it did. And I’m looking forward to being able to share this book with as many people as possible.

Pastoring While Female: Right Gifts, Wrong Package is a work of narrative nonfiction which, as the title suggests, tells the story of how I first became a pastor in a denomination that didn’t believe women could be pastors and then later found my way to the Anglican Church. In the specifics of my story are the universal experiences of many women whose lives take them outside of the expectations of traditional gender roles.

As a kid, I could imagine travelling to far-off kingdoms like the heroes in my favourite fantasy novels, but I could never have imagined becoming a pastor. Growing up in the Mennonite Brethren Church, a denomination that historically has not allowed women to be pastors, I simply wanted to love Jesus and help people. I’m not sure who was more surprised, me or my denomination, when I wound up serving as a pastor for almost 17 years before eventually leaving to pursue ordination in the Anglican Church of Canada.

This work of creative nonfiction tells the story of my unfolding understanding of my vocation and the challenges I’ve faced along the way as I’ve encountered people and institutions that were either unprepared or unwilling to accept that a woman could be a pastor. The narrative is supported with pilgrimage experiences—I travel to a Winnipeg monastery, where I learn about labyrinths; the Puye Cliffs and Chimayo in Santa Fe, New Mexico; St John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota; the Camino de Santiago; and to Banff and Calgary—and these pilgrimages help me process my vocational questions. The book is also quirky and humorous, featuring pop culture references throughout.

Although the book is finished I am now navigating the world of publishing and that takes time and patience. In the meantime, I’m also working on a second book.

If you sign up for my email list you’ll be the first to learn of any new developments on the publishing front and you’ll also be helping make it possible for me to find a publisher. Publishers want to know that there are people who are actually interested in buying a book and so the bigger my email list, the more likely it is that the book will be published.

And in the meantime, I will continue to work on my new book and will share snippets of that work and other related content. I’m looking forward to the conversations it will spark and the community that will develop in the process.

 


Where have all my footnotes gone?

Hello folks,

I've been hard at work this week uploading content to the website and it seems that in some of my sermons the footnotes have disappeared. It's important to me to properly acknowledge other people's work so I'm hoping to be able to add them back in over the next few weeks.

In the meantime, if you find something I reference and you want to know how to find it, let me know.

 


Camino 2015

In 2015-16 I took a two part sabbatical.  I walked the Camino Santiago in the spring of 2015 and then spent the first two months of 2016 at the Collegeville Institute in Collegeville, MN. It was there, while working on a different project, that the idea for my first book first came to me.

I blame the monks.

I blogged every day while I was on the Camino and periodically when I was in Collegeville. You can check it out by clicking here. 

My book Pastoring While Female: Right Gifts, Wrong Package has not been published but if you add your name to my email list you'll be the first to know when it is!