Sunday, June 7, 2015

Pieces of Light

Having just come from one church where lovely stained glass windows added to the worship experience in a myriad of ways, I was delighted on seeing the new church windows.  Lovely stained glass all around!  I was struck by both the similarities and the differences.  I was reminded of a quote attributed to Michelangelo, "I live and love in God's peculiar light.”  For me, that phrase seemed to speak of how God responds to needs in various ways according to specific needs and the character of the people and that place.
In the one church were towering spires, wooden arches and jewel toned deeply rich colors that muted and glowed in the light.  The mind was turned to the quiet, shadowed moments of meditation, of prayer and reverence.
As I looked around at the church in which I currently sat, I was aware of a golden amber glow that suffused the sanctuary. It kissed the area with warmth. The sunny hue brought smiles to faces and fit the joyful music that danced on the air.
Neither windows, or church, were better or more lovely than the other one.  Just as the stained glass windows take shards of colors and unite them in a specific purpose, God also takes human shards - of every shape, size, color and form - and crafts something unique and special from them. They are perfectly crafted to fit their place. They are set carefully to function in their role to reflect God's love. They, like those windows, have a purpose to uniquely and brilliant shine out into, and onto, human lives.

We are - in the end - pieces all living and loving in God's peculiar light.

Marilyn A. Hudson, 2015

Thursday, June 4, 2015

A Simple Rubric to Find Your Spiritual Gifts


Circle the areas in each category that best describe what you love to do. Count the circles and add the number to the bottom left.  A possible high point could indicate areas of gifting or special ministry.

·         I love to pray
·         I love to spend time alone thinking about God
·         I love spending time reading the Bible
·         I sense when people are ‘down’ and try to make them feel better
·         People leave me feeling better about their problems; they have more hope
·         I try to find ways to let people know they are loved
·         I love pitching in ‘behind the scenes’
·         I really like cleaning
·         I enjoy preparing food or cooking
·         I enjoy activities that are active
·         I much prefer to be “doing”
·         I like to offer to help people when needed
·         I live to go on mission trips that help people
·         I love visiting people
·         I love hosting people at my home
·         I love meeting people
·         People love to hang out at my home
·         I am first to greet newcomers or regulars
·         I like sharing my faith/church with people
·         I like inspiring others to positive change
·         I like to set the pace for effective work in the church and the community
·         I love bringing organization to chaos
·         I pay attention to detail
·         People respect  and trust me
·         I like feeling I helped in successfully accomplishing a goal
·         I see a need and initiate actions to fill the need
·         I see needs of people around me
·         I give because it give me joy
·         I seek ways to share what I have with others
·         I like to find concrete ways to help those in need (feeding, job placement, medical care, literacy, etc.)
·         I think of how others will react to actions or programs
·         I like to learn
·         I get excited learning new things and sharing them with others.
·         I like studying the Bible and helping others to understand it better
Encouragement / Prayer   ___
Optional: If you would like to hear about your responses, write your name and contact information here.

 This simple form can be printed and used in small groups, churches, or other settings. It very simple and serves only as a means to help begin the process of identifying possible areas of strength, interest, and possible gifting.
--Marilyn A. Hudson, 2015

Monday, June 1, 2015

Cue the Music!: On the Road Again!

The move. That intentional weeding of the life of an itinerant minister and his or her family. Where did we store those boxes from the last move?  Why did we get all this 'stuff'? Can my back take this???  The single largest component of the move is not, despite snide comments, from the female side of the shoe storage!  It comes from the books in the pastor's home and office study/office.  Those who love the academic side of life tend to add to the collection via big, massive, academic tomes. Those who do not tend to have a few paperbacks, the 'Conference says read this' works, and those gifts by people of what they (or a sales clerk) think constitutes approved reading for the minister. The result, is a large library and that means many boxes and empty shelves.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Rediscovering Method in Our Madness

"Methodists" was a term of abuse heaped on those Oxford students so long ago. Derisively they were labeled such because there was a live and let live, lackadaisical atmosphere among the students and genteel society in general.  The door to self-discipline was marked "Method"; having a plan of what to do each day to achieve certain goals in their public and spiritual lives.  I need to pray more? I must plan time for that in my schedule, even if it means I must arise while it is still dark to achieve this goal. To most Americans issues of self-control have so often battled with deeply seated individualism. No one - not even ourselves sometimes - will tell us what to do? This creates issues in spiritual life when the Christian should be listening to, and heeding, the instructions of the Holy Spirit about what they need to be careful of in their life and what areas may need to be placed under the control of Christ more intentionally.
Over the years there has been a large distance opening up, a chasm, between modern "Methodists" and those earlier "Methodists."  The ordered, methodical, process based strengths that so aided the movement in its early growth was replaced by a scatter-brained, 'flying by the seat of my pants', committee driving in circles, approach to just about everything.
I remember a series of district training events where local church leaders could meet at a church and pastors and leaders from all over would share with them practical, useful skills or model for them innovative new methods of operations or programs.  I recalled one where a person from outside the denomination was brought in to share about a specific program. There was an outline, there were handouts, there was an engaging presentation that had been well thought out and expressed.  In comparison, a Methodist minister representing some conference office breezed into a session and opened with , "Well, what do you want to know about XYZ?" 

For me, this is always the opening that hints that someone did not do their homework.  Sure enough, the presentation was nothing more than an extemporaneous collection of off the cuff rambling comments more or less related to the assigned topic.  When I first began writing I remember reading an article that warned about several styles of writing: 'all over the road' was one, indicating the lack of focus and pointless type of  article and another was the 'spontaneous me' style that seemed to express that whatever is said will be delightful because it is just so darn 'spontaneous'. Kerouac with too much caffeine muttering out street signs may be spontaneous but it is senseless and dull.
The difference in the two presentations was painful in comparison.  Where, I wondered, had the methodical, planned, and organized approach in Methodism gone?  Like a youthful driver flinging a car from one side of the road to the other, the approaches being seen  ranged widely.  They were the  ponderous and hesitant planning that occurred at the rate of geological change and thus insured no changes in content or processes. The other bounced off the curb with a breezy, 'don't make me think about tomorrow' causal style that passed for contemporary management for far too many decades.
Calendars are useful; very useful. Long range planning is crucial to steady growth and effectiveness.  In some professional positions I have held a three or five YEAR planning calendar was a necessity.   In too many churches, I believe, we have let the yearly change over of volunteer leaders substitute for clear planning on the long range scale.  We wait and let each new leader fumble around for 6 months, plan something and then, opps!, it is time for them to step off the roster.  Is it any wonder many churches are challenged and moribund in effectiveness?
It is time for a rediscovery of the "method" to our madness. To plan not in small segments of time but to see the big picture as part of the strategic planning and mission development. In three ,or in five, we want to see A,B, C, and D happen!   At the start of each conference year we should say to everyone from the conference level to the local church: Welcome to the ministry team of the church, this year these things have to happen to make sure we reach this three or five year goal to be effective in our mission and purpose in this community. You now have the ball - move it down the field!
Method, a system, a process, an effective and organized movement that advances the church or a personal spiritual life into greater levels of accomplishment and service to God.
Commit to the Lord whatever you do,
and he will establish your plans.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Soul Friends

In 1997 an Irish monk wrote a book that captured the imagination of many and crossed denominational boundaries.  The title "Anam Cara" (unnam kara) was a Gaelic term meaning "soul friend" and referred to the mentoring and advisory process.  It was based on an older meaning that stemmed from ancient Celtic beliefs that the soul glowed with a nimbus or halo and when a person encountered other people the glow could magnify in strength. If it did so, it was a clear indication  of a "soul friend" who would be loyal and true.
“One of the tasks of true friendship is to listen compassionately and creatively to the hidden silences. Often secrets are not revealed in words, they lie concealed in the silence between the words or in the depth of what is unsayable between two people.”    ― John O'Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom
The Wesleyan United Societies emerged as a way by which people could share a covenantal relationship, know they were not alone on the journey of faith, and have developed in them positive habits of prayer, accountability, confession and encouragement.
As such, these groups functioned as mentors and advisors to one another as they asked their questions.  The questions themselves served to cause reflection, dedication and faith. How goes it with your soul? Has anything come between you and prayer, service, church?  What have you done to advance the cause of the Gospel? Are there any issues that keep you from fully serving God and loving your fellow humans?

Sometimes, people in helping work can be the most lonely and isolated. They give and give of themselves but are so often never filled themselves by gracious acts and loving kindness that supports and builds.

Everyone needs someone to let them know they do not travel the road alone. Everyone needs someone to help put their problems in perspective and to minimize fears that grow to giant proportions when alone in the dark of isolation.  Everyone needs a gentle, loving, honest, and faithful friend to keep them on their path, help them be true to their best self, and remind them of the ultimate, eternal, goal.

Many people could benefit from rediscovering the "Soul Friend" who mentors, advises and is our friend.  Clergy spouses often need these more than others because they are without a pastor.  Who ministers to those who minister? Who serves those who serve?

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Bearing One Another's Burdens: Clergy Spouses and the Connection

One of the most important features of Methodism, historically, has been its focus on connection, covenant, caring for one another.  An area where this has sometimes been weak has been in the care of the clergy family.  In most regions of the country, "Minister's Wives Fellowship" groups sprouted in the 1930's to provide social and spiritual support to the women married to the ministers. In a gendered society that still had only one working model of the role of women in society. These groups helped acclimatize new wives to the proper methods, attitudes and behaviors of the parsonage woman.
In the 1930's -1950's books on being a minister's wife (written by people from numerous denominations) included many gems of dismal expectations.  I remember reading one that said a wife such disappear into the world of her husband, abdicate her desires to fulfil his mission, and negate her abilities so they did not overshadow her spouse.  Other classics painted a confusing picture of making everyone happy, raising perfect children, and being totally clueless about anything in the church while fully supporting and attending the services.  Such conflicting advice was often spiced up with the need to be lovely at all times and devout. Sometimes the information on marriage was included in books by ministers for other ministers.  I remember one that had as its sub-titles "procedures and problems."  I always wondered which one that pastor considered his wife, a procedure or a problem?
Flash forward several decades to the 1960's and 1970's and a couple of stories help to illustrate the attitudes of churchmen to churchwomen.  Stories shared by elderly wives of pastors recounted how that they would, each year, pack up their entire house and give it a good cleaning while their husband went to annual conference where assignments were announced.  She would wait, breathlessly, for the call that said either "unpack" or "we are moving."   Other women shared the presiding bishop's requirement that women wear white gloves, hats, and hose at all times while at church or conference events. These were the decades where under the surface of society there was a revolt brewing against just such highhanded control and stringent dictates of decorum. 
Speeding through the 1980's and into the early 21st century there has been a roller coaster of change. More spouses working outside the home and diminishing the church as single social interaction and source of concern.  Worlds expanded and worlds collided.  I recall serving on a district fellowship group where many of the older women were still firmly rooted in that 1960's and 1970's world. Others, like myself, were progressive, for lack of a better term.  We were educated, we had experiences and views that said we as women should be engaged in important work in the church. No teas for us!  No traditions!  We were modern, we worked, and we had brains.  A lot of women felt that way (few male spouses at that time) and there was a general falling away from the concept of a fellowship group based on what we saw as an outdated paradigm.  We were not defined by what our husband's did!
We would be - we all agreed - just a person sitting on the pew and being actively engaged in mission like any other church member.  No special privileges expected or desired. No "queen of the manse", "first lady" or similar nonsense.
What we failed to understand that we were different: neither fish not fowl. As long as we were specifically mandated to not serve on certain committees in the church (see the Book of Discipline) , we were different.
What we failed to remember as well was that connectional aspect. That caring for one another and being supportive of the burdens other people might be struggling with as they lived the life.  We failed to remember people need friends who understand and the local Bible study group is not the place to rail against the son of Satan who keeps hurting your husband or to complain about the gossiping and bad behaviors of the church in general.  Talking about it with a spouse often merely added to the stress that person was feeling in their position as leader and spiritual worker.
The problem, looking back, was that the idea was basically sound: a group to offer social and spiritual support to a cadre of people sharing a similar journey.  The fault was in confusing a maintaining of the status quo as the goal.  The fault was in 'gatekeeping' those spouses instead of strengthening them through friendship and prayer. The fault was in failing to realize that as much as you might want to be just another lay person on the seat the church and community will always see you as "the preacher's wife" (or husband).  To hold back that tide of inevitability is too exhausting and can be detrimental to a marriage.
The best advice I can give is to go into a church slowly. Do not assume positions or roles too quickly unless there is a passion in you to do them.  Too often I have seen churches fail to develop the gifts within them because a willing spouse, or some paid staff,  make the process unnecessary.  The role of the person married to a member of the clergy is a hybrid one and perhaps that is the greatest potential there is in the discussion. They understand both sides of the equation (ministry purpose and function and church dreams and desires) and can help in the translation process. 
As the 21st century dawns it is time to explore what the spouses need and how to best support them in their travels, transitions, and tribulations. What would it be like to have a supportive group who can say "how goes it with your soul?", "have you laughed today?" or "come, let us pray".    It would be a very Methodist thing to do.
Some excellent examples of conferences working to support the families of clergy as they transition through moves they have no voice in and over which they have no control. Like other fields, the military and some companies, the worker is moved and the family is just part of the furnishings.  In a church setting,  however, there should be so much more to the process. There should be a concern and care given to how the family copes, feels supported, and encouraged in the process of re-location. These are emotional health issues that are sometimes hard for people to express or acknowledge. We have so often made people feel that in the spiritual world we cannot have weaknesses, uncertainties, and even dislike for the lot we are given.
Professional counselor and wife of a Methodist minister, Marilyn Brown Oden, gives insightful commentary in "Stress and Purpose: Clergy Spouses Today" (1988). 
The Mississippi Conference has this delightful page with a very formal take on organization. The clergy spouses have a verse on their page that seems to say it all: "Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing." I Thes. 5:11 
The Eastern Ohio Conference has a truly broad and helpful document on the moving process. The content ranges from practical aspects and timelines to the emotional health of people who are going through a grieving, loss, and separation experience. A Guide to a Good Move for Pastors and Families
The Texas Conference has a webpage devoted to the Clergy Spouses.
The diverse makeup of Clergy Spouses in the UMC was the focus of a 2009 study that included for the first time a significant look at the male spouse of a female clergy. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Art of Evangelism

Several recent studies have underscored the role of art in helping relieve stress, of helping seniors retain memory functions, and cognitive clarity, and its apparent impact on people dealing with severe health problems. The church and the world of art have often gazed at each other across a wary canyon of mutual distrust. The church, often too concerned about issues of appropriateness and subject matters, limited subject matter and ways of representing spiritual themes or topics. The art world, often filled with extreme individualists rankled at such and turned their back on spiritual aspects in a search for expressions of their inner vision.  As Francis Schaeffer pointed out in "Art and the Bible", the inner spirit and motives of the artist will shine out of whatever they do.  As the 20th century waned, it was clear there was a deficiency in what was feeding many of the artists of the world. Jars of urine with crucifixes in them were called proudly 'art'.  The source of this problem was a general move by the church world to remove spiritual issues and expression from its own sphere and leave it for others to shape.

Responding to that was a flowering of artists who explored the rich field of the spiritual with new and expressive eyes. 

One such place was the Visual Arts Center at Wilkes Ave. Blvd. UMC in Columbia, Missouri.  Here art melded with evangelism and spiritual healing to offer a way to make disciples of Jesus Christ. 
Another program is Paint and Pray at Wesley UMC, Oklahoma City. Here the program was originally intent on using interest in art to introduce Jesus Christ to a new group of people. In the pilot project, it was found that there was so much more such a program could and did offer: creative discovery, fellowship, friendship, distressing and devotions that touched hearts.  Offered as a pilot for a $5 a week donation to support the unfunded program, those who could soon gave more in support, and then a grant was awarded that would allow a summer program targeting the community to enjoy the lessons and spiritually rich environment for free.  As part of the process, students create 'random works of art' that they leave for people to find, have an art show, and create a group work to reflect their journey through the lessons.

Go OUT and Share the Good News

Dateline: OKC

The homeless and those in need are ministered to in a dynamic manner through an organization called "Church Under the Bridge".  In this ministry, churches unite to feed those in need, share the Gospel,  provide clothes, and spiritual guidance to those they meet.    Every service includes a sermon with special music and prayer.  Food is proved to upwards of 70 to 100 people (men, women and children).  Clothes are brought to be distributed to those in need. The "Church" - followers of Jesus Christ - being "The Church."    Here, again, we could say, "Here is ministry!"

There Be Ministry Here!

Dateline: Wilkes Blvd. UMC, Columbia, Mo.  We traveled to this historic and busy college community as part of a mission strategy team to see the ministries implemented in this once dwindling congregation and learn how they had begun the process of turn-around. In the process, we met wonderful people and saw a renewed emphasis on real mission oriented outreach and ministry.

 The walls between fellowship and worship had, literally, come down. Each Sunday people are served breakfast in this area, find cups of steaming hot coffee, a place to sit and friendly people. The church knew that some people are allergic to "pews" and moved in couches and chairs to one side of the sanctuary and many sit with coffee at the tables and participate in worship.
Underused upper floors acquired new vital purpose as a center to help the homeless was begun. Showers, laundry, mail center, job center, and clothing source all at this church!

 One of the most innovative and rich areas was the Center for Visual Arts where dedicated artists ministered to the soul through the medium of art. People were encouraged to come and explore, try their hand at creating, and finding friends who shared the love of God through a love of artistic expression.

The visiting group was excited, enthused, and encouraged to return to their home church and begin to make their church more mission driven and more purpose filled in its own setting.  Leaving Columbia and the "Church at Wilkes and 7th" we could heartily say, "Here, There be Ministry!"

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Person on the Pew

Once upon a time I would have argued for a special position for the spouse of a clergy. They were role model, mentor, key leader, etc.  A few decades being that person on the pew has taught me a bit more.
The Person on the Pew is the most important person in the church.
Am I saying I am something so special?  No.  I am saying that the person - any person - who occupies that space on a pew is the key element in the church. They are the salt, the light, and the yeast of a healthy, productive, growing church. They are the problem, the reason, and the source of a dysfunctional, stymied, and stagnate church.  That person is every member, every visitor and frequent friend. They are the most important people in any church.
Face it, pastors come and they go...sometimes frequently and that may be a related issue. Pastors cannot be the source of growth, development, vision or mission action.  They are to motivate, lead, feed, and protect the flock in their charge.  The herd has to reproduce; the herd of people sitting on the pews.
Ministers sweep in and out of a church's life but the people remain and they play a significant role in how healthy a church remains through the process of change.
The Person on the Pew makes the decision to place God's will for the church and their life as central to all that happens.  They make the decision that they will continue to grow and develop their faith.  They make the decision that their person is not to bring comfort to their members but to share life with those outsides walls. They decide to reach out in dynamic ways to act out the gospel by feeding the hungry, helping the sick, clothing the naked, and helping those in need. They decide to be the Samaritan and buck the culture to help a social outcast and then go the extra mile in the process!
They pray like they meant, read the Bible like they believe it, have a personal faith story they can share, and live each day imitating Christ, and spend they life  knowing that only what's done for Christ will last.
The most important person is not the preacher but that person on the pew.  With a little faith - small as a mustard seed - they can move the mountain!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Moving Through Grief

Leaving any situation can produce some of the same symptoms and emotions that anyone suffering loss can experience. It does not matter what the age, the keen sense of loss, abandonment, and separation can be experienced and a process of grieving may ensue.  The problem is that for many in the ministry this aspect is not talked about or recognized as a real event. The focus is often on the service, the mission, the purpose, the work, the church....the individuals involved can be less the focus.  This sense of loss and grieving can happen in the parsonage and in the church membership itself.

The 5 Stages Of Grief, As Applied To A Cross-Country Move
- Given the significant passage of time since I moved, I have gained some perspective on this move and its effects. The five stages of grief, which ...

Moving Pains: The Disorientating Grief of Transitions
Christianity Today
I walk into church a stranger. We're a few minutes late. I stand at the back of the sanctuary
and look across the backs of unfamiliar heads to find

Moving Forward: Dealing With Grief - Focus on the Family


Over time, the intensity of your grief will likely subside, but do not rush the grieving process.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Fitting In

One of the most challenging aspects of moving to a new church is the 'fitting in'.  Churches tend to become fixed and accept people based on the willingness of the new person to adapt to the customs of the church.  Those unwritten rules of behavior, interest and values that take on the value of a doctrinal creed at times.
I have gone into new churches were it was expected that the spouse sing in the choir. I have gone into churches where it was expected the spouse would teach a children's class. I have gone into churches where it was expected the spouse would lead a Bible study or maybe the Women's group (if a man maybe they are expected to lead the Men?).  I have gone into churches where it was expected the parsonage family occupy the same pew, two back from the front on the left side - so everyone could see you there.  They also got to see every time I had to go to the bathroom when I was pregnant and every time the kids acted up. 
Over the years, I have come to see one of the problems with this 'fitting in' is that it is often one sided. It often reflects issues at work in the congregation that negatively impact how they welcome new people and how they disciple those who come.
As new layers of soil join with others to build up a landscape they tend to fall in layers of similar matter. Thus, geologists will see silt over long epochs. The development of these layers  can be used to determine the age of the landscape and the influences.  The rings of a tree record the passage of time and can note the introduction of new elements into the air, environment episodes and periods of great rain and severe drought. 
To grow a social group involves welcoming new people (outsiders or children growing up), to be healthy the group mutually adapts to new ideas, styles and ways of doing things. In a church, this infusion of new ideas and views and methods can enrich the energy, vision, and outreach of the church. It is important that those who unite agree on issues of faith but it is not that important that the same style of program conducted in 1960 continue to be used in the women's group.  This process of continually learning to do new things with new people keeps the church young, effective, and faithful to its basic mission.  Churches and people should never confuse cultural customs with abiding issues of faith.
We should, as a church, only ask people to 'fit in' in the areas of their faith in Jesus Christ, their responsibility to spread the Gospel, and to grow as mature Christians.   I love history and cherish the preservation of it because it can teach new generations so much. I also know that history can become a set of chains that keep a church from doing anything.  People should remember the past and learn from it and keep those things that are special.  people should cherish and use the present to achieve in a way that honors the heritage of the past but seeks to communicate with new generations. People should look to the future and know that there are lessons, values, and achievements that should be shared with those yet to be born. 
Keeping the idea of "fitting in" in balance and focused on the really important stuff will help to make sure everyone 'fits in' and the experience is a great one for all concerned!
--Marilyn A. Hudson

Friday, April 24, 2015

Just Practicing their Beliefs. Dr. Hudson

Recently, I read an essay in which an individual sharply commented on the presence of “religions” in our world. Rather than being a positive reflection, or even a cautionary against dangerous religions, the message was more sweeping. According to the author, our world would be a far better place, if and when, it was entirely devoid of religions. According to the author’s lights, human history has been the unqualified recipient a host of ills that can all be placed at the feet of formal religions.

Granted, there is something enticing about this line of thought. It is easy for many to read an essay such as this and suddenly be swept in a world depicted by John Lennon in which we have no ills including religion. We have instead only a utopian warm fuzzy universe populated by Teletubbies and the offspring of Barney the purple dinosaur. Nevertheless, is religion really that bad, or is it the straw man for a very different matter? I remember years ago when religion as a term was first defined to me in a comparative religions class. The term religion was defined as all the “Discrete modes and methods by which one lives out or practices their belief system.” In my opinion, this is a good definition, for it encompasses all religious practices, formal and informal. Such religion may be organized or disorganized. It may be well thought out or rather random. It is all religion by the link to a belief system.

It also brings to mind a book written decades ago that presented the idea that psychiatry was the new "religion" and, using commonly accepted identifiers of a religion of faith, argued that the priests were the therapists and psychiatrists.  It might also be possible to apply that argument to those who affirm they have no religion, no belief in God and follow only science. 

With that definition in mind, I would suggest that the writer was being religious in the act of expressing a disdain for religions. By this, I mean that the writer had a belief system that was formed by a collection of ideas, concepts and anecdotes which led to the conclusion that all religion is a plague upon human existence. In the act of living this ideology out through thought, word, and possibly deed, the writer was practicing a belief system. In short, the writer was one more example of a living religion in our midst. By this definition, there are most likely multitudes of religious people around us who do not consider themselves religious. However, they are and daily they act out their belief system with lesser and greater degrees of fervency. One might remember this the next time someone goes on a tirade against the presence of religion in our world. They are just practicing their beliefs; they are being religious.

In the end,  humans tend to believe in something.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Hobbies and Pastimes: Road To Wholeness

Marilyn A. Hudson
 'de-stressing' via art
I worked with a dear friend many years ago whose husband had been a minister in another tradition. A terrible situation erupted in their church where he had to confront individuals and demand they leave the church due the severity of events. It tore him up and the job was further finished as they church shoved him through a meat grinder of judgment, gossip, hatred, and rejection.  He balanced precariously on the chasm of a nervous breakdown but instead had a massive heart attack.  The doctors told him he had balance his life and find an outlet that allowed him to de-stress without the threat of another heart attack ending his troubles.  He reluctantly attended some classes on making candles but it did the trick and he developed a love for it creating some of the most lovely candles he would make for couples getting married, babies newly born and as gifts. They featured curling exterior designs, artist features and careful attention to detail. He lived, more stress free for nearly thirty years after that heart attack a richer and more peace filled personal life.
Dr. Hudson playing bass with a band

Fast forward to a lunch with Bishop Dan Solomon many decades ago. As a newly assigned clergy couple, he looked at my husband and myself as asked, "Do you have any hobbies?  Hobbies can be very important to keep the work in perspective. Outside interests are good."

John Wesley - and generations of other ministry leaders - set the pace as non-stop service and mission but Jesus reminds us a boat ride away from the crowd can be a good break.  But being about the business of the Gospel is often confused with the 'busy-ness" of the Gospel.  An endless round of pointless activity does no one service and potentially leaves great harm in its wake as families can be neglected, marriages ignored and valuable friends never made.  The poignant term in old Methodist papers for caring for the old and "worn-out" preachers says a lot.

Dr. Hudson with his observatory
Sometimes people can be driven and so instead of relaxing they merely trade one set of driven activities for another.  They say it is a need to be active.  A different pace, a different view, a different schedule can be as relaxing and stimulating as that 5K race or that bike ride. Time focused on learning new things, developing new skills and enhancing our sense of who we are apart from the roles and the titles can be exhilarating! 
Engage your mind, your body, and your spirit as you live your life and fulfill your purpose. Engage them to create wholeness and balance them all to live meaningfully.


Wednesday, April 22, 2015


It is important to safeguard the health - mental, emotional, and physical - of any pastor.  They need time with their family, by themselves, or with friends (non-church).  Schedules can become so full that it is hard to find the time needed to build a relationship with a spouse, to be a parent, or to build friendships.
Set aside time each week for each of these and let them be just as important as any board meeting or home visit. A minister cannot give of themselves without needing to be given, to be replenished and recharged.
A Methodist ethos of earliest years was based on the concept of work, work, work. They achieved, they spread the Gospel at prodigious sped and scope, and they put our recreation loving generations to shame.
Yet, even Jesus saw the need of going away for a time, of drawing back from the crowds, and  pausing from the ministry to refresh. So, schedule time into the week to keep things in balance. In the end, more will be achieved and more of life enjoyed.
For more on this subject read:     Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask First: Rediscovering Ministry by William Easum.


It is that time of year when Methodist people begin the process of preparing for a transfer to a new church. Over the years I have come to identify some specific behaviors associated with this process.

We Are Gonna Need A Bigger Truck
Historically in Methodism, as with other groups using a parsonage, there was the move from one furnished parsonage to another.  Older generations accepted the tastes, economies, and extravagances of each new parsonage committee in stride or, at least, as an exercise in the development of the spiritual virtue of tolerance.  In one church, a large ornately framed painting of a dour old saint had to be kept on the wall of the parlor. I recall the shocked sound as the clergy spouse shared in a larger group that the painting scared her child and so she stored in the hall closet. Her daring! Her courage! Our envy!
As a result, in an attempt to establish a continuing sense of "home" wherever the hat might be hung, many clergy families developed 'extras' they moved with them. Sometimes it was merely a collection, a set of framed photographs, or some dearly loved antiques that connected them to families far away. Most clergy spouses could recall in those early days of my husband's ministry the poignant loss of a dearly loved belonging that they simply could not afford to move around anymore.    Younger, incoming clergy spouses rebelled against this custom of using other people's furniture and many conferences have adapted with housing requirements that provide for housing but leave the furniture to the clergy family.  I remember how we had winnowed down to a nice compact truck size and then were faced with loading and moving a houseful of furniture. My husband frowned and said, "We're gonna need a bigger truck."

I Have Everything In This Backpack
One way that many clergy families adapted to this migratory, or in church-talk itinerating, process was to pioneer the whole 'reduce and reuse' process.  Some of these idealist souls made a convent cell look bawdy with decoration in comparison.  In a more recent era they might be termed 'hipster', 'simplicity loving', 'green' but their lack of 'things' sets them apart as a) living by a totally different ethos or b) so poor they can't afford anything and have turned that into a positive to feel better about it.

Everything into the Garage!
Asked for advice on how to move, the following was offered.  Pack up room-by-room, leaving a suitcase for each family member to use, label clearly as to contents, tape securely, and place in a pile in the garage. Color tape can be added to each one to color code for those who are more visual. Clean each room once empty (baseboards, lentils, corners, closets - leave nothing unbroomed, dusty, polished or vacuumed).  On moving day, simply load the boxes onto a truck by room. Either make one last final cleaning sweep through the house or hire someone to come in and clean it.  Some churches may want to make repairs between pastors (painting, etc.) and if that is the case you can leave the cleaning up to the church. Leave the information notebook (see article on that topic) somewhere easy to find.  Unloading at the new home will be just a reverse of this process (and the color coding seems to help at this point as everyone can be so tired it is easier to just use colors instead of words!).
A Word to Churches
As someone who has moved into both a totally cold and empty house and one who found there delightful moving day surprises, the later is really the best!  Do exercise your gifts of hospitality by welcoming your new ministry family into the parsonage!
I remember driving for hours, getting hot, tired and having two rowdy toddlers in tow, and entering our new home.  It was a big, empty place that echoed, smelled of paint and cleaning solvents and soon realizing we  had nothing to feed the children with until we found a grocery store.  I remember also another situation where to our delight the refrigerator had been stocked with staple food and some delightful dishes left so we would not have to cook.  A note welcomed us, gave us a number to call if we needed, or wanted, help in unloading or needed any questions answered. Such a delightful welcome!!
It can be stressful to reach your new "haven" and find there a bunch of strangers. No matter how wonderful and friendly you like to think you are it can be innerving.  Moving can make one feel very vulnerable (tired, wrinkled, hungry, thirsty, maybe even a little anxious and worried).  Check to see if the new family would need and want help in unloading.  Give them the courtesy of presenting themselves to the church fresh and rested and feeling at their best.  It will set the tone for a mutually respectful and positive relationship based on true kindness and hospitality.


I once worked in an office where the cupboards were bare. Every file drawer was empty. There were no addresses of contacts, vendors, or suppliers, no records of previous orders, no warranties on the equipment, and no clues anywhere!  The outgoing person  had dumped everything including the normal "standing" files expected to be there about recent purchases, meetings, budgets, etc.  I had to start from scratch without knowing what items were going to be crucial and had to keep everything to be sure I did not accidently discard some records needed later for a report or submission to another office.   Avoid this headache with those who come after you in a church or parsonage.  Leave a confidential file in the office for the incoming minister.  Hand deliver it if possible and discuss it with them.

Include in it basic church data:
Membership list with contact information
Current committees and their members and chairs
Current budget and financial sheets
Samples of recent newsletters, bulletins, etc.
Any reports on plans, achievements
Policies and Handbooks
Job Descriptions of all staff
Emergency Information
Photo directory
Church history information
Community information & research
Financial information
Long range plans and strategic plans or mission statements
Minutes of meetings

Include in it some relevant data to help them get the feel of the church and the setting:
A "Normal Week" narrative to acclimatize them to the feel of flow
A list of the movers, the shakers, and the challenges (Highly Confidential).
Strategic plans (hits and misses)
Interpersonal "landmines" - family feuds, people who cannot work together, sacred cows, etc.

If there is a parsonage that passes to the incoming pastor and his/her family, prepare a similar notebook with helpful information to help settle the incoming person(s) into the place.

Parsonage Data:
How do things work (lights, doors, stoves, codes, etc.)
When is trash day? Any special rules or customs in the community?
Maps of community
List of nearest grocery stores and hours
List of nearest dry cleaners and hours
List of nearest pharmacy, doctors, hospitals
List of nearest parks, tracks, libraries
Unwritten expectations of the church about the parsonage, its upkeep, etc.
Anything you wish someone had told YOU!
Who to call for repairs?