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?