As I sat in opening worship of Annual Gathering, there was a bird flying around the sanctuary. The bird seemed happy to be flying about, landing on the small trees near the altar. I wondered if the bird was trying to find its way out of the church. Then it occurred to me that the bird was the Holy Spirit, happy within the church, and yet also belonging to the world outside the church, and perhaps even trapped by the sanctuary walls. I found solidarity with the bird.
Have you heard? There is a banquet planned before Synod, and I have been asked to bid you come.
I hope that sounds familiar to most of you. Most of all, I really hope that you will accept the invitation. Yes, I know Synod is coming and there is lots for us to do to prepare! But, then there is that biblical mandate that we all live with to be welcoming and to enter into the community of God, while ever widening the welcome to include all whom God has invited to the banquet.
This is a goal of most congregations. Yet despite the advertisements of a radical welcome, there are some people who wonder if that welcome really includes them. I have from time to time found myself wondering if I really were invited. You see as a child, I had a pronounced speech impediment and I learned early that even when I was invited to be somewhere that I had to do some extra work to find out if I were really welcome or if I was there to entertain others as I spoke. And yes I learned to wonder this even at church. Last year, at Widening the Welcome 3 in Columbus Rev. Lynda Bigler asked in her sermon “Have you ever been faced with revealing your disability or keeping silent to keep the status quo?” and waves of remembering being told I was either not qualified or could not be qualified to serve as a chaplain because I am a woman with disability flooded over me. This time, however, those waves did not knock me down. This time I had learned I was indeed welcome not only at the table but welcomed into the community of God.
I have been questioned by people within the disability community about why I would want to be involved in the church. Its not as shocking as it seems. Many persons using wheelchairs find it difficult to get into church buildings and they feel excluded. Many persons with mental health issues find that people in the church are no more compassionate than people outside the church even as the gospel is preached each Sunday. And, yet, this is not the church I have always known or the understanding of the gospel I have learned from church. As Jason Hayes said in his speech at the last Widening the Welcome, “‘Failure to conform to social norms’ sounds like Jesus the Christ to me.”
Why am I telling you all of this? Because, I want you, my brothers and sisters in the church, to understand why I am bidding you to come to Widening the Welcome. God calls all people to God’s community. God sometimes calls people to us we do not yet understand or people whom we are not sure how or if to welcome. God, it seems does not share in all our human stigmas. So I bid you come to the banquet where we can met one another and learn what disability and mental illness are, and what they are not. Come so we can equip the leaders and laity of our congregations to extend with confidence that radical welcome to persons whose body may not be like other bodies and persons whose brains may not be like other brains. Come let us talk to one another about how to move beyond stigma and welcome all people into the full participation of the life of our churches.
Come to the Widening the Welcome, Pre-Synod Event on Thursday, June 27, 2013 at the Renaissance Long Beach Hotel. Keynote speakers will include The Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroder, Founder, Mental Health Ministries, and The Rev. Kathy Reeves, Coordinator of Ecumenical Disability Advocacy Network-North America, a program of the World Council of Churches. Workshops will provide information about becoming an “Accessible to ALL” (A2A) church, starting mental health ministries, caring for adolescents and the aged, as well as creating inclusion and transformation. Registration is now open and the registration brochure is available here Widening the Welcome Registration Brochure. Please follow registration instructions in the brochure. Limited scholarships funds are available. For more information about Widening the Welcome or for a scholarship form please email Rev. Kelli Parrish Lucas at firstname.lastname@example.org
I never saw this coming. My beloved Buber the Dog died on March 12, 2013. (Yes, as in Martin Buber, I thank those of you who get that, because it was essential to his canine-ality.) We had taken him to the Vet ER because he suddenly could not stand up, would not eat, and looked like he might be in pain. They took x-rays, said his skeleton was fine and suggested that we follow-up with a neurologist which we planned to do. We took Buber home. He looked comfy and sleepy on a cushion we had for him. I asked him if wanted to go “out”, he lifted his head and torso to look over at me and then just flopped back down as if wanting to sleep. I turned off the light and left the room to let him sleep off the pain meds, little did I know that was my last conversation with him. Less than two hours later I went to pet him good night and found that he was already gone.
We had a home vigil. Burial in the high desert at a friend’s ranch.
I am a hospice chaplain I work with loss and grief all the time. But this has got to me in ways nothing else has. Perhaps it should. This was my and my husband’s beloved dog, this was family, this was my baby. This was the animal that just simply wanted to be next to me all the time, and when I was home he mostly was next to me. This was an animal who connected to my soul–Buber was his name.
Now Buber is dead and buried and life is all odd. I come home from work and there is no pup, if my husband is out there is simply no one there. The house feels empty, and yet somehow it feels more like home now and less of a convenient rental. Things that seemed so important no longer seem so important, and I have this urge to simply slow down.
I know all about grief, intellectually. and personally. I have lost many loved ones to death. Professionally I see death so often it is a real presence. But this is different. I feel ridiculous. I work with dying people and grieving families, and the death of my beloved pup has turned my life upside down. But I think this is the way it should be.
We feel the pain of loss to same extent that we have loved–and love survives death. It still seems sacrilege to not say “hello” to Buber when entering the house. I look for him in all his favorite spots. And every time I imagine petting his beautiful fur and know I will never get to do that again, tears well up in my eyes. I have done the shock and disbelief. My anger and bargaining have been intertwined….if I had known he was dying….if only I had not been so busy…..thank God he did not die three days before when I was away on a church business trip…. I have even berated myself for not seeing the signs and symptoms of canine dying, thinking that as a hospice professional I should have foreseen this—we don’t always see it even in people, and I had never seen a dog die. Death can surprise you. I have been unkind to myself.
There will be firsts. Like today, we washed the bedding and no more will there be Buber on the bed. And yet in my mind’s eye, I am sure I saw Buber sitting on the clean bedding as I walked by the bedroom just before dinner. When I watered the fruit trees and roses in the yard, Buber was no longer in the yard avoiding the water hose (he did not like to get wet, but he found the waves at the beach fascinating). Nonetheless, I had the sense the other day that he walked around to the back of the house as I was watering. Yes, I put down the hose and followed just to check his favorite spot to see if he were there. And I keep forgetting that I don’t have to worry about Buber catching his ear on the rose-bush and getting his ear pierced by a thorn. I am sad that I don’t have to throw the lemons that have fallen on the ground straight into the compost because they may have dog pee on them and thus would be unfit for human consumption. Mostly I am sad that as I write this post Buber is not sitting next to me–often he would get up on the bed and cuddle next to me as a wrote or use the foot of the bed as a platform to nudge me at desk if I were sitting there. Nope, now it is just here, me, writing on my own…and horribly undistracted. I hope I still will have something to say. Those eyes had much wisdom and grace and taught me so much.
I know the fifth step of grief is acceptance. I am not ready for that yet. I still feel that a part of me has been ripped away with no chance for goodbyes. But what would I have said? “Don’t go?” That would only be cruel. “I love you and you are the best dog ever?”–I said all that. He had had pain medication, so if he had pain that had been addressed and he was at home with his people, where he would want to be. So I am assured that Buber the Dog had what we call in hospice “a good death”. People and food were the most important things in life as far as Buber was concerned. In fact, being and dying at home where he could hear his people talking and fretting over what to do for him next may have been exactly as he wanted it to be. It was all very hospice like really. I still feel like this was sudden and I am not ready to accept it.
Yes, l may likely get another canine in time, but there is none like Buber the Dog and his sweet soul that poured the love of God right onto you whether you thought you needed it or not. The loss of such a being I cannot accept right now, and maybe at least, theologically, I can never accept. May we all meet a living being sometime in our lives who simply think we are worthy of all the grace and love they can bestow. Though I bid adieu to my theological pup and I am pretty sure that I now not only have a direct line to God , but also a fan putting in a good word for me with the Supreme Deity, whose heart will also melt at the sight and touch of the floppy ears
UCC Disabilities Ministries and UCC Mental Illness Network
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE (March 10, 2013)
Coordinator: Rev. Kelli Parrish Lucas, UCCDM Secretary
Widening the Welcome Pre-Synod Event Location and Details Announced: Developing Congregations to Include People with Disabilities and Mental Illnesses/Brain Disorders to be held in Long Beach, CA June 27.
The United Church of Christ Disabilities Ministries (UCCDM) and the United Church of Christ Mental Illness Network (UCC MIN) is happy to announce that the Fourth Annual Widening the Welcome: Inclusion for All Conference will be held at the Renaissance Long Beach Hotel, CA. Widening the Welcome 2013 will commence at 7:30 am and conclude at 7:30 pm on Thursday, June 27th, 2013. Registration information, including link to on-line registration is available now , and here: Widening the Welcome Registration Brochure!!
Widening the Welcome: Inclusion for All will celebrate the theme “God’s Vision: The Great Dinner is Open to All” (Luke 14:15 ff) with speakers and workshops designed to assist congregations in welcoming and ministering with people with disabilities and/or mental illness/brain disorders. Keynote speakers include The Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroder, Founder, Mental Health Ministries, and The Rev. Kathy Reeves, Coordinator of Ecumenical Disability Advocacy Network-North America, a program of the World Council of Churches.
Workshops will include “Becoming A2A (Accessible to All): From Theory to Practice”, “Mental Illness and Families of Faith: How Congregations Can Respond”, “Mental Illness in Prison: Understanding the Facts”, “Spiritual Care for People with Disabilities & Brain Disorders of Aging”, “Centers of Hope and Transformation: People with Disabilities Creating a Consciousness of Inclusion”, “Cherish the Parents, Care for the Child: Supporting the Emotional Well Being of Families from Birth to Young Adulthood,” and “Developing and Sustaining a Spiritual Support Group for Mental Health and Wellness”.
“Widening the Welcome: Inclusion for All” was termed “a movement within the movement” of the UCC by General Minister Geoffrey Black. UCCDM and UCC MIN welcome all UCC churches and conferences as well as our ecumenical partners seeking to do ministry with persons with disabilities including mental illnesses to send representatives to join us on June 27, 2013 for this fourth historic gathering. This Widening the Welcome Conference is offered prior to General Synod so as to make this educative, informative and engaging Conference available to Synod delegates. This is also the first of the three prior national conferences that will be held in the west so as to make it available to people in this region of our country. ###
It is the first week of Lent and I may have already failed one of the major challenges of the Lenten journey. I am not one to give things up for Lent, and I have been notoriously bad at picking up a new spiritual practice to carry for the Lenten season. I think a lot of people are like me in this regard, or perhaps I am like most people. Or perhaps since Valentines Day fell on the second day of Lent this year, I could not create reality out of the notion of giving something I liked up and chocolate being present at the same time. See, this Lenten stuff all gets very complicated.
I did actually take something up for Lent this year, more specifically for Ash Wednesday. As a chaplain I have found that Ash Wednesday is probably the one holiday that I am called upon to function as clergy in ways that many parish pastors do. In fact, it is the only Christian holiday that calls for me to prepare and led a worship service in the context of my ministry setting (memorial services are different.) So this year I decided to go for it! Inspired by Womenspirit’s sale, I ordered a clergy collar shirt! I was not at all sure it would arrive in time for Ash Wednesday but it did, so I took it as a sign that I should wear it to work.
The shirt is a lovely royal blue. The collar was tight and uncomfortable but we became friends by the end of the day. I have to be honest. The context in which I minister is one where my authority as a woman clergy person is regularly challenged and occasionally outright denied. This is not specific to my context, its specific to mainstream American Christianity, I know this. Several of my colleagues had encouraged me to wear a collar to work, Ash Wednesday and the need to lead a service, seemed the perfect day, so I did it.
This is what I learned from a day in the collar. The collar has power. There is no doubt about it. It defines one’s role–as I found I did not have to introduce myself as the chaplain because people assumed. A collar defines one role and authority externally but internally as well. I felt more confident in my role, and there was I felt flow of respect towards me that I don’t always experience. It was as if the sight of me in my collar demanded a recognition not often granted.
It felt great! And that is where I failed, or so I thought. Yes it did feel great to experience authority and respect in ways I do not experience it when I am not wearing a clergy collar. But this was not exactly the rush of new found authority and sovereignty, as in the temptation Jesus faces in the wilderness. It was not that because it was not lasting. It was not that because it was not ego-infused. The clerical collar will come off and former patterns of relationship will no longer be interrupted by its presence. I thought I had failed a Lenten insight because I had experienced for the first time the authority people grant to those in the collar, and I thought it was good. I did not fail, because I realize that experiencing the power of this authority was not about me. The only authority I have is the authority entrusted to me by God to care for God’s people. It is the authority of the yoke, the predecessor to the collar. The authority granted to those who answer the needs of others, even when that collared individual may desire to choose another way, like sleep. The collar is powerful, but it is not the power of authority, only the power of authoritative servitude and reluctant prophethood that flows from answering God’s demand to love others.
UCC Disabilities Ministries and UCC Mental Illness Network
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Coordinator: Rev. Kelli Parrish Lucas, UCCDM Secretary
Widening the Welcome: Inclusion for All Pre-Synod Event, To Be Held June 27, 2013
Movement for Inclusion Hopes to Welcome Synod Attendees
The United Church of Christ Disabilities Ministries (UCCDM) and the United Church of Christ Mental Illness Network (MIN) will offer a fourth Widening the Welcome (WtW) experience. The Fourth Widening the Welcome Conference will be held as a one-day Pre-Synod Event on Thursday, June 27th, 2013. This event is scheduled to be held in Long Beach, exact location TBD.
The theme for Widening the Welcome 2013 is “God’s Vision: The Great Dinner is Open to All” (Luke 14:15 ff). Two keynote speakers are expected. The Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroder, Founder Mental Health Ministries, will speak on “Mental Health as a Spiritual Journey” and offer a workshop on “Mental Illness and Families of Faith: How Congregations Can Respond.” The Rev. Kathy Reeves, Coordinator for the Ecumenical Disability Advocacy Network-North America, a program of the World Council of Churches will also offer a keynote address/workshop. Both keynote speakers have self-identified as persons with disability and/or a persons in recovery.
Workshops focusing on how congregations can become Accessible to All (A2A), how congregations can develop mental health ministries will be available. Workshops such as “Prison Ministry and Mental Health as a Justice Issue,” “Cherish the Parents, Care for the Child: Supporting the Emotional Well Being of Families from Birth to Young Adulthood,” “Pastoral Care with People with Disabilities & Brain Disorders of Aging”, and topics not previously presented at WtW conferences are planned for this conference.
“Widening the Welcome” was termed “a movement within the movement” of the UCC by General Minister Geoffrey Black. WtW continues with its vision/mission:
- to educate about mental illnesses/brain disorders and disabilities;
- to teach how to develop Mental Health Ministries and A2A (Accessible to All) Covenants in your congregation;
- to share best practices by telling stories, learning from each other, and networking;
- to equip pastoral leaders to understand and provide quality pastoral care to men and women addressing these concerns; and
- to offer spiritual support group experiences and worship together.###
The Fourth Widening the Welcome: Inclusion for All Conference sponsored by UCC Disabilities Ministries and the UCC Mental Health Network. A Pre-Synod event will be held Thursday, June 27, 2013 in Long Beach, CA. 8am-8pm. Exact location to be announced.
Speakers will include Rev. Susan Gregg Schroeder, Founder of Mental Health Ministries and Rev. Kathy Reeves, Coordinator of the Ecumenical Disabilities Advocacy Network–North America, a program of the World Council of Churches.
Save the date, more details to come!
I am coordinating this event. I will also be offering the following workshop at the event:
Spiritual Care for Persons with Disabilities and Those Affected by Serious Brain Disorders Associated with Aging
This workshop is a multifaceted look at providing pastoral care to people with disabilities (PWD). This workshop will provide disability culture and awareness information that all professional pastoral care providers should be aware of in providing pastoral care to PWD. This workshop will touch on some historical ecumenical responses to disability, particularly the shift in ethical responses to disability that affect care provided. Finally this workshop will address providing pastoral care to persons affected with dementia, relying on first and second hand accounts as available. (Developed for professional pastoral care providers, and accessible to lay people.)
Some women don’t just speak in church. They play. They minister. They love. They be.
One of our friends, Delores Fisher, Minister of Music, is one such woman. Delores holds at least one Master’s degree and is a lecturer with the Africana Studies Department at San Diego State University and is also a Dance Studio Ballet piano Faculty/accompanist. In the spirit of Psalm 150:3-6
3 Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
4 Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
5 Praise him with clanging cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
6 Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!
We share with you her latest YouTube production.
Today is Epiphany, my favorite day of the Christian calendar! It is the celebration of when the wise leaders, religious leaders, scholarly leaders of the world acknowledge the humility of God-among-us-in-the-flesh. It is the great revelation of the world acknowledging God–even as a small helpless babe.
In the narrative of the wise men (Matthew 2) God is found because the learned, the insightful, the sought-out-for-advise-giving saw a star rising in the East. These leaders, the wise men, saw a new star and followed through foreign lands in the hope of seeing the greatest of a kings–a babe asleep in his mother’s arms. I wonder what the other wise men said as they packed their bags for the long journey. Were they laughed at? And if not why did only three make the journey? What would they have told the border guards as they crossed from nation into nation? Surely, telling them you were going to see a new king would have raised suspicions. Is that why Herod called them to meet with him? Come to think of it, the wise men surely knew Herod was among the most ruthless of rulers in the ancient world, and THAT is saying something. And still the wise men had the courage not only to cross the desert on their journey, but to risk their lives in crossing Herod because they held onto the hope that the child beneath that star was more powerful than the most feared ruler of the world.
One of the things that always strikes me in the Christmas-Epiphany narratives cycle is the role of dreams. Joseph is encouraged in a dream to remain with Mary rather than dismiss her in her pregnancy. The wise men are warned in a dream after seeing Jesus the infant, not to return to Herod, and they go home by another way. And finally, the dream seldom heard as more that a footnote, is Joseph’s dream in which the angel again comes and warns him to take Mary and Jesus and flee into another nation. We live in a world where we seldom make decisions based on dreams, at least the ones that come in sleep. In the modern world we are more apt to follow the big dreams that come to us by way of national pride or Hollywood. These are not the dreams of the biblical narrative. The dreams of the wise men and the dreams of Joseph are, rather, those dreams that come to us seemingly out of nowhere when we have gone inward enough to still ourselves and discern the will of God. It is often God’s dream for our lives that leads us on journeys more powerful than we could have imagined, even if it is not a journey that follows the screenplay we ourselves had envisioned.
What dream has God put into your heart, that frees you from the tyranny of oppressive forces, and calls you onward to great journeys in search of the promised hope of justice and the personal opportunity to behold God and know, beyond all doubt that no matter the cruelty of the world, that God is with you, and indeed all of us?
I have come to learn that I am one of those people who loves to travel. One of the most memorable trips I ever took was a cross-country train trip: west to east and then south to north, when I was seventeen and all by myself, even with a broken foot. One of the things that struck me during that trip was the great cross-section I saw of America—the well-to-do; the black, browns, and whites; the poor; the drunk; the unruly. There is a great diversity that we live in, a diversity that becomes pronounced in some ways and blurred in others over the holiday season. This blurring of the diversity of this season is similar to what I saw on that great monthlong train trip, and Advent is about that long as well. But on that trip, I also learned that despite all our diversities we have much in common. We are all travelers. Despite our station in life we all have to show our tickets when asked, and if we get too unruly we may get put off the car at the next stop.
I think there is a part of the Christmas narrative that gets rushed over. It’s the journey to Bethlehem. All the people, no matter their station, had to return to the land of their fathers to be counted. This Christmas account is an odd and troubling requirement really since it deviates from the Levitical code that required a similar return to homeland, albeit for a very different reason. On the one hand, all the people had to return to the home land of their forefathers—the family land—which was a periodic requirement of the Levitical codes. However, unlike the required Levitical return in which the land and debts would be resettled at this return to the family land so as to reestablish national life in accordance with the provision and justice of God, the Christmas narrative relates that the people are merely counted for Caesar. This is not settling of debts and return of land but an ancient form colonization and subjugation of the people of ancient Israel to the largest empire of the time, Rome.
The reason and consequences of the journey to Rome are not the only thing that gets glossed over in the pageantry telling. There is also a poor and young Mary who is very, very, very pregnant making the journey of several days to the temple city. They were traveling many, many, many miles on foot—if they were lucky they had a pack animal Mary might have ridden. One can imagine this journey would have been very uncomfortable for the mother-to-be. It was no baby shower for sure! What an exhausting physical trip before giving birth! (I consider the experience of Mary’s physical journey fresh and anew this year as I await the news of a friend who is expecting a child, a boy, this very week!) But Mary’s experience was not only a physical one. It was a spiritual and emotional one as well. Mary was a young woman at a precipice: a young woman about to give birth for the first time. A young woman about to give birth as her people enter into a new form of subjugation under a new emperor. A young woman about to give birth to a son come to pronounce a new way of relating, a new way of justice and peace at the end of an empire. And I wonder what it was like for Mary to give birth in such times. Mary, having been told this was the Child of God. Mary, wondering if this was the Messiah for whom they had been waiting. Was she ready to give birth? Was she ready for what was to come?
Let us dedicate this day in prayer to the women waiting to give birth, to pray for their preparation and safety in this transition of life to life.
And let us wonder, if we are ready.