download pdf - Practicing Our Faith

download pdf - Practicing Our Faith



Theological School Bicentennial Year

The Faith Practices



Forgiveness l By W.A. Hurd 2

Healing l By Barbara Smith 5

Honoring the Body l By Nell Fields 7

Hospitality l By Janet Bush 10

Household Economics l By Bob DeFelice 12

Sabbath Keeping l By Dawn Karlson 14

Saying Yes and Saying No l By Bruce Taylor 16

Shaping Community l By Nancy Willbanks 18

This anthology, as well as many other activities

associated with the Field Education course, The Integrative Seminar: Faith Practices in

Context, was made possible through a grant from the Valparaiso Project.

Read more about the Valparaiso Project at their Web site,,

from which the following statement of purpose was retrieved (7/17/2007):

The mission of the Valparaiso Project is to develop resources that speak to the spiritual

hunger of our contemporaries with the substantive wisdom of the Christian faith,

especially as this wisdom takes shape in Christian practices.

The Project accomplishes its mission by conducting seminars, commissioning books,

developing interactive resources for adults and youth, and supporting innovative strategies

to strengthen participation in Christian practices in a variety of life settings.

The Valparaiso Project launched as a way to extend the invitation

offered in the 1997 book, Practicing Our Faith: A Way of Life, for a Searching People.

Both book and website explore twelve time-honored practices shaped by the Christian

community over the centuries, yet richly relevant to contemporary experience. These

Christian practices are shared activities that address fundamental human needs and that,

when woven together, form a way of life that is faithful and has integrity.

The Valparaiso Project encourages creative thinking and writing on practices foundational

to a Christian way of life. To learn about writing projects and conferences currently in

progress, visit the News section.

The Valparaiso Project Grants Program (2000-2006) provided financial support for activities

designed to help specific communities nurture a way of life shaped by Christian

practices. These grants enabled creative leaders to strengthen teaching, learning, and

reflection on Christian practices within the varied contexts where people engage in

practices. See what others are doing.

The Valparaiso Project is funded by Lilly Endowment Inc., a private family foundation in

Indianapolis. The Project is based at Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Indiana.



Theological School Bicentennial Year

210 Herrick Road, Newton Centre, MA 02459-2243



Theological School Bicentennial Year

The Faith Practices



The Field Education Program at Andover

Newton Theological School strives to provide

transformational experiential education

for ministry through:

1. Meaningful ministry experiences in

settings that support learning,

2. Theological reflection opportunities

that foster spiritual formation and

vocational discernment, and

3. Academic courses that promote the

integration of ministerial theory and


Andover Newton students preparing for

ministry serve for at least one academic

year in field education, either in an

Andover Newton Teaching Parish or in a

site borrowed through the Boston Theological

Institute. For fifteen hours each

week they minister, prepare, and reflect

with trained supervisors and lay volunteers.

In addition, students take a course on

campus meant to help them to bridge their

classroom and ministry site experiences.

In 2006-2007, with the help of a grant from

the Valparaiso Institute, Andover Newton

students in field education participated in

a pilot course aimed at helping them to

integrate theory and practice for ministry.

Each student in field education took a

course entitled The Integrative Seminar: Faith

Practices in Context. The course included a

lecture series based on the book Practicing

Our Faith: A Way of Life for a Searching People,

edited by Dorothy Bass (San Francisco:

Jossey Bass, 1997), where members of the

Andover Newton faculty lectured on the

habits and actions that shape the faith life

of individuals and communities. The

course also included a small-group experience,

where students selected a faith

practice upon which to focus over the

course of the academic year in partnership

with peers and a pastor-mentor

adjunct faculty member.

The following anthology serves as an artifact

and reminder of what students

learned in their small groups and in the

ministry field. The following essays were

each written by one student who had

been selected by his or her small group to

reflect in writing on field education, faith

practices, and the formation of pastors and

leaders for God’s church and world.




In Matthew 18, the disciple Peter asks Jesus a question about sin and

forgiveness. Peter assumes that he — that we — must forgive those

who sin against us, that forgiveness is an important aspect of being a

follower of Jesus. He asks Jesus, "Lord, if my brother

sins against me, how often must I forgive him?

As many as seven times?" Indeed, Peter recognizes

that not only is forgiveness implicit, but that repeated

forgiveness is essential. But, surely, Peter seems

to be asking, there’s a limit to forgiving others. We

certainly can’t go on forgiving everything forever,

can we? You can’t be asking that of us, can you?

As with many stories in the

Gospels, Jesus’ answer to Peter is surprising not

because the disciple’s assumption is wrong, but

because he didn’t go far enough. "Not seven

times," Jesus responds, "but seventy times

seven." Jesus uses a hyperbolic number, a number

that one would lose track of before reaching,

because, for Jesus and for his faithful, forgiveness

must be inexhaustible. It is a defining trait

for Jesus, who forgives even in his final


Yet, there are questions below

the surface that remain unanswered and even

unasked. Is Peter asking about seven different

sins, or how many times must we forgive for the

same sin? Is Jesus suggesting that we are never

done forgiving those who have sinned against

us? Are we only able to forgive those who sin

against us personally, rather than against others

or against God? Though this gospel message

demonstrates that forgiveness is indispensable

in following Jesus, it does not show us everything

we need to know about forgiveness. Most

importantly, this passage does not tell us how

to forgive.

Indeed, the question left unasked

is . . . What does forgiveness look like? Is it reconciliation?

Is it a return to the relationship’s previous

state? Is it always the same? Is forgiveness a

thing or a time, or is forgiveness a process that is

never quite complete, but always progressing?

Jesus does not answer these questions here. It is

left up to us to give meaning to forgiveness, to

practice it in our own lives in a way that makes

sense to us and that allows us to live and love in

this world, using the example of Jesus’ life and

ministry to guide us.


I am blessed to serve in a church

where there are few, if any, physical and emotional

scars in need of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Indeed, there is a sense of general comfort with

and acceptance of one another throughout the

congregation. There are, as in most congregations,

disagreements both subtle and immense, yet none

of these rifts seem in desperate need of attention

or repair. Yet, the desire for and need to forgive still

exists, just beneath the surface.

It was my dubious distinction to

lead the worship service on the day of the congregation’s

annual meeting. I learned during

the previous week that the only way the con-

the bulk is done by the kids. When the adults

are approached with an idea or a potential program,

the first suggestion is to have their children

(or, in reality, someone else’s children) do

it. After all, by doing this the kids will build

character and learn valuable lessons about helping


After my sermon, in which I

implored the church to recognize their duty to

the church and their fellow people around the

world, the budget passed without increasing the

missions allocation. No one even asked why it

was sliced. The subject never came up. Though

I knew it from my first week visiting, before I

was even interviewed, I was now certain that

this congregation had no intention of carrying

What does forgiveness look like?

gregation could remain solvent for the next year

— without firing the minister or closing down

during the summer — was to halve the missions

budget. The suggestion was made at a council

meeting, when it was revealed that the missions

committee hadn’t even met in four months and

none of their allocated funds spent in six.

Members of our congregation

lead busy lives: they have families, and work,

and need some time for themselves. They travel

for business during the week, and their children

have activities all weekend. Honestly, it’s a wonder

that they make it to church three times a

month. But they pledge money to the church,

2% of household income is the goal, and they

donate money to other charities unrelated to

church. Occasionally, they’ll spend an evening

working the food pantry. More often, they’ll

send their children to perform those duties.

Indeed, what little community

service and outreach the congregation attempts,

out any kind of wider mission, and were content

to let it die unnoticed and un-mourned.

Still, in my conversations with

various members of the community, it became

obvious that there were people who were distraught

at the notion that the church would

abandon its mission to the world outside the

church doors. They couldn’t understand why the

church council would allow this to happen.

There was anger and indignation from these

folks, who questioned why the consequences of

a lack of funds weren’t brought to the community’s

attention earlier. At the same time, the members

of the council, the minister, and other

involved parties agonized over the decision and

thought that they had alerted the congregation to

the upcoming shortfall. Indeed, this problem of

expectations and miscommunication or lack of

communication is prevalent in the community.

The congregation was splitting

apart, slowly and just beneath the surface. The

members of the community who were angry at

the council for cutting the missions budget felt


that they were kept out of the loop and that

they were being forced to lose a vital part of

their Christian practice. The council itself felt

like it was under siege, despite doing the best it

could under the circumstances. There were

many people, myself included, stuck in the

middle, trying to repair this breach.

The easiest solution was never

going to appear. The money to fully fund the missions

budget wasn’t going to magically arrive in

the coffers. There was no way to make the problem

disappear, but there were ways to alleviate

the symptoms. Lines of communication needed

to be reopened. Expectations needed to be voiced

and managed. The failures of both sides needed

to be recognized. Only then could the processes

of forgiveness and reconciliation begin.

forgiveness begin. I saw two people, at odds

only moments before, share a look that spoke

more loudly than all their previous bickering.

Reaching inside themselves, putting away their

differences and recognizing the love that they

had for one another, they began to see themselves

in one another’s place. They apologized

to one another, giving voice not only to their

own pain but also their own blame.

The money never materialized

magically in the church coffers. The missions

budget remains where it was set at that meeting.

But the acrimony subsided after that morning.

The lines of communication between the opposing

factions were reopened. Conversations about

expectations, about what it means to be a church,

about the importance of mission, about what

Forgiveness looks different each

time we are asked to forgive or to be forgiven.

There was a morning Bible study

at which the church’s moderator and one of the

aggrieved parishioners sat next to one another.

They seemed to take opposing sides on every

topic, every passage that we discussed. Their problems

with one another were leaching through to

every facet of their relationship. Suddenly, one of

the older members of the congregation lent her

voice to the subject. First out of respect, then out of

understanding, they listened to her words of wisdom.

She told a story about how the church had

gone through this before and that she didn’t want

to see it happen again. Visibly upset, she said that

it was hard work to make a community out of

people who only had so much in common, but

that our love of one another and of Jesus was

something that we all shared.

We sat in silence for a few

moments. It seemed like days. I thought of our

discussions of the passage from Matthew and

how what forgiveness looked like remained

unspoken. As I looked down the table, I saw

mission might look like sprung up at Bible

Studies, at fellowship hour, in emails. The problem

still existed and still troubled the community,

but by addressing the underlying causes, by

seeking common ground and recognizing the

importance of forgiveness and reconciliation, the

problem was being managed.

Forgiveness looks different each

time we are asked to forgive or to be forgiven.

What is constant is that we must take into our

hearts the frailty, the imperfection of ourselves

and others. Reconciliation is not always possible.

Forgiveness does not always mean leaving

the problem in the past and continuing as if it

never happened. Yet if we are to live in a

Christian community, a beloved community, we

must find within ourselves love for those who

have sinned against us, not just once, not just

seven times, but seventy times seven.




“We yearn for the touch that will make us whole, or we yearn to be

able to offer this touch of wholeness to someone we know.” – John Koenig

The faith practices group on

healing in the course, The Integrative Seminar: Faith

Practices in Context, tended to be experiential in

nature, becoming a group that explored the

parameters of healing and its significance in our

daily lives. Instead of talking about it, we experienced

it by participating in it, observing it, doing

it and celebrating it! One of the things that

became apparent is the realization that the art of

healing could be used to define the practice itself.

Perhaps the best example of how

the group integrated this practice in its field education

is the day when each member within the

group recounted his or her day; and one by one

it was revealed that every member of the group

had experienced loss that very day. Someone

had died in each of our individual placements.

It was not this coincidence that led us to the

practice of healing, but it was a process that

shaped the group from the first meeting.

As such we began to talk about

healing in the context of many different aspects

of our field education experiences. One way

in which our conversation was expanded was

through applying the practice of healing to

the act of having a voice in our placements.

How do we negotiate what we want and

what the church or internship committee

would like to see done? How do we define

our roles? With each of these questions it was

necessary to re-visit past experiences within

the church and personally determine our current


Healing became part of the journey

for us: the journey from a tentative presence in

the churches where we served as interns, to an

authoritative presence in the church universal.

Another way of describing this healing is growth

or movement away from the old towards the new.

The biblical reference for this process comes from

Colossians 3:9-10, "Do not lie to one another, seeing

that you have stripped off the old self with its

practices and have clothed yourselves with the

new self which is being renewed in knowledge

according to the image of its creator."

Some themes that arose in our

discussions included forgiveness, approaches to

healing, and the question of "cure." Furthermore,

as we recounted our individual experiences,

it became apparent that who we are determined

how we healed. We do not heal in the

same manner. Some heal quickly, some heal

slowly, some do so privately; while others do so

publicly. Other issues that arose included inner

peace, energy and wholeness. This experience

revealed that healing can be as simple as claiming

authority or as complex as forgiving.

Our ministerial identity seemed

to grow (at least in part) out of this field education

experience. We began by acknowledging

when healing had to be done and reflecting



Bass, Dorothy C.

Practicing Our Faith.

San Francisco:


Epperly, Bruce G. Healing

Worship: Purpose &

Practice. Cleveland: The

Pilgrim Press, 2006.

Person, Gretchen. Psalms

for Healing. Minneapolis:

Ausburg Fortress, 2001.

upon this experience, and discerning when particular

individuals or a congregation needed to

be healed and how to take that to our parishioners.

We learned how to be comfortable with

the mystery of healing.

I am now able to define healing in a

more pragmatic way. As I worked with the people

at my assigned congregation I define healing

in a different way. Healing is a reconciliation

with that which is lost. It is bringing about

wholeness and that is what we are called to do

as ministers, to bring about wholeness to individuals

in their own lives and in the life of the

church. The value of humor, the importance of

allowing others to help you heal, and the necessity

of being connected were among the ways in

which the healing group was effective in integrating

this particular faith practice into our

field education.

When we speak of healing most

people have images of a doctor, a hospital, and

physical pain or injury. Few people realize that

there are other types of healing, such as emotional

and spiritual healing. The bible gives evidence

that there are different types of healing

in the stories about Jesus for example, who

went about healing all types of illnesses.

Healing was a major part of his ministry (see

Matthew 4:24; Luke 6:17). It was also an important

part of the early church. In some instances

the different types of healing required will

overlap. If a member of the congregation is

being beaten by her husband who is also a

member of that same church, she may require

all three types of healing (physical, emotional

and spiritual).

One of the first things that we did

in our healing group was to acknowledge that

healing was necessary. Such acknowledgement

is a crucial step in the process. Another thing we

did was to involve others in the healing process.

We are meant to be connected to one another,

and nowhere is this more evident than in the

healing process. When we are in pain or suffering,

we cannot heal ourselves. This is why the

phrase "physician, heal thy self" is so poignant.

Even the physician needs someone else

involved in order to heal.

When our group reasoned

analytically about this practice it became clear

that there are several elements to it. One such

element is trust. The ability to trust also entered

our conversation: how can you be healed by

God if you do not trust in God? How could we

as a group consider healing as a faith practice if

we could not trust one another? If one does not

have faith, how can one be healed? Conversely,

if one does not have faith, how can one heal

others? Christian healing has been a part of the

church since the first century; it is not new.

Perhaps through this faith practice we are rediscovering

the importance of healing as it relates

to the church as a whole. In some instances, it

forces us to respect faith traditions other than

our own. It pushes our limits.

Another element of this practice

is movement or progress. How do we move

through the healing process? What makes us

stagnate? Is God’s timing and humanity’s timing

the same? When we are not cured of a certain

ailment does this mean our prayer was

not heard? What are the theological implications

of movement or progressing through the

healing process?

Sharing is an element that we

sometimes take for granted. When we share in

the process of healing it can help give meaning

to the purpose of healing. Sharing our stories,

our hopes and experiences can help us in this

process. It is one of the elements that we tend to

overlook. The following are specific methods

and practices of healing that can be brought to

the congregation:

1. Touch

2. Prayer Shawl Ministry

3. Music

4. Voice

5. Anointing

In sum, our group came to agreement that healing

is most effective when we realize that the

primary cause for healing is that which comes

from God.



the body


Honoring the body, as a faith practice, can be deceptively simple. After

all, we know what it means to honor the body: to take care of it, to eat

right, to get enough rest, to bathe it, to clothe it, to touch it, and to

allow it to be touched in tender, caring ways.

Yet, to mindfully live out this practice in a culture

that tells us to be more, do more, eat more is

difficult – even for six seminary students who

committed to this practice for a year. At first, the

demands of school, church, field education, family

and work appeared diametrically opposed to

the practice. How could we faithfully live out

honoring the body? we asked.

Like other faith practices, this one

starts with intention, with an awareness that

our bodies are sacred. They are a gift from God.

Being mindfully aware of the different ways in

which we can honor our body –

and the bodies of others – can awaken us.

And in doing so, this practice brings us into

closer relationship to God and to others.

For one student, this awareness

led to an awakening of her senses. She began to

see the world and her parishioners in fresh, new

ways. To her, the practice of honoring the body

allowed her to see that worshipping God was far

more than readings, prayers and songs. It also

involved the body. Her realization came from

experiencing candles burning – not just watching

them burn, but focusing upon the burning

with her full attention.

Another student had a similar

experience. Her weekly drive to her field education

transformed from drudgery to a seasonal

slide show, each week offering a new view of

the landscape. "As I focused on the practice of

honoring the body, I became more aware of

myself, of others and the world around me," she

says. "I realized I could engage in this practice by

noticing, by participating in the little things."

She says one week she had one of those "aha"

moments when washing her hands. She writes

of that experience:


After my visit with a parishioner,

I returned to the parsonage. Rev. Bonnie is on

the phone, responding to the crisis of this seemingly

sleepy town. Finally, she comes up for air,

transitioning smoothly. “How was your visit?”

She smiles. She knows. "Really good," I answer.

“I have lunch for you. Seafood salad.” It is 3 p.m.

already. Rev. Bonnie hasn’t eaten either.

Before I sit down, Rev. Bonnie

says, "Wait, you’ll want to wash your hands." I nod.

Oh yeah, right. "No, just before eating, but after

every pastoral visit, it is important to wash your

hands. You’ll see a lot of people, hold their hands.

Pray with them."

I wash in silence under the warm

water. Freshly scrubbed, an autumn landscape: I

her body, it was honoring her commitment to a

God "who lives in all places and all times."

The collar virtually guaranteed

that I would not fade into the background. It

meant I would be conspicuous; it hinted that I

had things to say that would be meaningful and

relevant. It also ensured a level of trust and perhaps

suspicion that I would not have garnered so

quickly. I grew used to it: toward the end of the

month looking at my image in the mirror no

longer produced a jolt of surprise. I started to forget

the look of my bare neck and just as I did I

realized the collar had gone inward. Something

in me had shifted, in a variety of small and

momentous ways. The aspects of the role I struggled

with—the constant worries that I would not

be up to the tasks of ministry and of faithfully

Something in me had shifted,

in a variety of small and momentous ways.

am grateful. I retreat now into the warmth. I am

grateful, too, for this ritual, washing; for this

practice, honoring the body. And for the sacred,

relationship. Relationship with the other, with

the community and with God.

For another student, the practice

of honoring the body began with the simple act

of dressing or adornment. In this case, the practice

came to life in wearing – for the first time –

a clerical collar. The collar not only set her apart

from others – especially people her own age,

but it set her apart for – for a life of ministry. "I

spent 15 minutes trying to figure out how to put

on my clergy collar," she says. "It looked simple

enough: one band, two fasteners. But it was the

order of events that threw me off balance." This

piece of clothing was more than just honoring

representing the Church—were not gone entirely.

Those worries were abated, and I began to see the

collar and my clergy shirt as part of my skin.

For seminary students and others

juggling myriad tasks and obligations, the practice

of honoring the body means taking time for

rest and sleep. "As a seminarian, you really want

to go above and beyond to prove yourself," a

student observes, "but honoring the body

means just that: taking care of yourself." One

student engaged in this practice learned first

hand the importance of setting limits. One

evening, when providing pastoral care to a

parishioner, he realized he had been with this

person for nearly four hours. He explains:

I told the parishioner that I wanted

to be sure we had ample, uninterrupted time to

speak and that I was available at 7:45 that evening.

I suggested we meet at a local coffee shop and he

asked if it would be okay to meet at his home or


mine. We agreed to meet at my home. In hindsight,

I think that was an error in judgment since

it allowed me no gentle way to terminate our

meeting. He stayed until 11 p.m., and I was

exhausted. At last, I was able to steer our conversation

around to taking the form of a prayer. And

then I said a prayer for myself: "Lord, please hold

these concerns for me until tomorrow. I’m tired.

I’ll work on this, with your help, tomorrow."

Sometimes, the practice of honoring

the body can be a communal act. A fellow

student, a dancer, choreographed a liturgical

dance involving various members of the congregation

for a Maundy Thursday service. The

result? Not just one person honoring the body

through movement, through dance, but six

dancers acting together as one body honoring

the communal body.

“ Live with your hands open so that which needs

to fall out can and that which needs

to fall in, also can do so.”

The sanctuary was barely lit,

mostly by candles waiting to go out; but in the

mean time, slow turning ceiling fans made the

flames dance and bring life to the space. Add to

that six bodies clothed in black – shadows really,

from 80 years old to 12 years old – inspired to

move throughout the sanctuary by a solo voice

singing "Deep Love of Jesus." Add to that the

movement of the congregation rising and

falling between hymns and prayers, the ebb and

flow toward and away from the communion

table; and the ministry team appearing and disappearing

from the pulpit. There we lived the

painful hours, the last words, the last touches,

the last bread broken. There we sat together in

the dark, then darker, sanctuary no longer moving;

just the in and out of the solo breath of the

one soul who pulled the rope of the church bell

so many times that we all began to breathe the

struggle with him. All over the world now the

Body of Christ in tears. Connected in our brokenness.

Our silence.

No matter what form the

practice of honoring the body takes, it requires

openness and trust. We have to remain open to

the experiences that God has in store for us.

And at the time, we must trust that those experiences

will bring us into a closer relationship

with God. "My field education supervisor

shared some great wisdom with me," a student

engaged in honoring the body practice offers.

"It is this: Live with your hands open so that

which needs to fall out can and that which

needs to fall in, also can do so." That is a stance

of openness and trust. It is a stance of restful

alertness. It is both salutation and surrender. It is

moving into one’s place as member of the Body.




VNACare Hospice, headquartered in Needham, MA, serves patients

and families throughout greater Boston. An interdisciplinary team of

nurse case managers, social workers, physicians, chaplains, and


volunteers provides care to dying patients who

may be in their homes, in nursing homes, or in

one of two home-like residences run by the hospice

itself. I served as a chaplain intern. I visited

patients at the hospice residences and in their

homes, participated in weekly staff meetings

where cases were reviewed, assisted with inhouse

memorial services, and met weekly with

Chaplain Webb Brown, a wonderful mentor, for

supervision. I also participated in one of the regular

bereavement support groups, and served as

the group’s facilitator when Webb was away.

I wanted to focus on hospitality as

a faith practice because it seemed to fit the mission

and activities of hospice work. In preparing

a homily for the annual memorial service honoring

all the patients who had died over the previous

year, my focus on hospitality reminded

me of a Buddhist story about a woman whose

child has died. I told my own version:

The grieving mother comes to the

Buddha and implores him to bring her child back

to life. He tells her, "Go among the houses of the

village, and bring me back a mustard seed from a

house where no one has been touched by death."

She sets out. At the first house, she meets a middleaged

woman who sees the anguish on the younger

woman’s face. The younger woman explains her

mission. "You may take all the mustard seeds I

have," says the older woman. "But I have lost two

children, and both of my parents, in this house.

Please, come in and rest. Have some tea."

The young woman moves on.

At the next house, an old man greets her. He too,

feels compassion for her and invites her in to

share some food and to rest. His wife has died

only two months before. He lost a son in the last

war. From home to home she goes. She is welcomed

with kindness, she shares her story and

hears the stories of her hosts, and she is offered

food and drink. But she finds no house untouched

by death.

She goes home to bury her child,

and then returns to the Buddha to become his


This story is usually said to be

about the realization that mortality and suffering

touch us all. In my version, it becomes a story

about hospitality, about the care and compassion

and welcome people provide to each other in

times of need. As I worked with patients, I paid

attention to welcome and care. I learned that

ministry with dying people and their families

involves layers of reciprocal caring and being

cared for, and a blending of the roles of guest

and host.

I met Terry shortly after she was

admitted to the hospice residence. The social

worker suggested I bring her some fruit. Terry

was pleased and touched by the welcome. As I

left her that afternoon, I told her that we would

all do our best to take good care of her. "And I

will do my best to take good care of you," she

replied with a smile. Later I learned that she was

Native American, and that reciprocity was an

important part of her tradition.

Felix was quite particular about

his space and his routines. He had a painful condition,

and his mood varied. He was a thoughtful

man, with a deep faith that sustained him. One

day, he told me he had decided that his purpose,

now, was to cooperate with his care. "The people

who work here really want me to feel as well as I

can. They don’t have to do this work, I know.

They do it, although I suppose they wouldn’t

admit it, out of faith, as a kind of ministry. What I

can do is to cooperate, and not resist their efforts."

I thought about his insight. When we are guests,

we submit, graciously and gratefully as we are

able, to our hosts’ care. Being a hospice guest is

practice, perhaps, for the final letting go.

I was sitting with Frances on her

porch. She was in her 80s, still living independently

despite her weak condition. I had gotten to

know her quite well over a number of visits. Our

past conversations had ranged over many subjects,

including her feelings about her illness and

impending death. On this afternoon the conversation

seemed to veer back and forth from profound

to trivial. Frances wanted to know about

my vacation, how my children were, about my

ministerial studies. I would answer, but then try

to lead the conversation back to her. As a chaplain

I see my role as bearing witness, and, as I’ve

heard it said, "hearing the other person into

speech." At one point I noticed feeling a little irritated,

even bored. I thought, "Frances is just playing

hostess," and "Why did she get herself all

dressed up for me?" And then suddenly she

began to share some very difficult memories. We

talked some more, and she said, "I don’t like to

talk about gloomy things all the time. That’s why

I keep changing the subject, you know." As I

shared this experience and reflected on it, I realized

that of course Frances needed to "play hostess,"

and that part of my gift to her that day was

giving her an occasion for dressing up, and

speaking of ordinary things.

I have often thought of myself as

a caregiver or a pastor who is there to give, to

provide comfort and support. This is the role of

a host, of the person who welcomes the guest,

the other, without judgment. But I learned, from

Frances, Terry, Felix, and so many others, about

give and take, the mutual giving and receiving,

and the blurring and blending of roles.

Hospice and hospitality share the

same root, of course. Hospitality is part of many

religious traditions. In ancient Christianity,

around the Mediterranean, hospitality involved

feeding and protecting travelers. Travel was dangerous

in that time and place. Hospitality often

included a bath, supplies for the traveler’s onward

journey, and an escort along the road

toward to the traveler’s next destination (for reference

and more information on this topic see

Entertaining Angels : Early Christian Hospitality in its

Mediterranean Setting, by Andrew Arterbury,


This description of hospitality

to the traveling stranger is a beautiful image of

what family members, friends, hospice staff and

volunteers do together. Together, all work to provide

an escort for part of the way, to provide comfort

and blessings for the one who is dying, traveling

towards a new destination. In offering and

accepting hospitality, patient and caregivers share

stories, fears, vulnerabilities, strengths, love and

care for each other. And in so doing, all are

reminded that "even though I walk

through the valley of the

shadow of death," I am

not alone.


empty. The monthly rental fee was determined

and the trustees of the church undertook the

task of locating tenants. Part of the rental agreehousehold



The lens through which I examined my experience in field education

was that of Household Economics. As a former accountant, this topic

seemed to naturally jump up and say, "Here I am, pick me!" … so I did.

Thankfully, one of the texts used for field education

was Practicing Our Faith: A Way of Life for a

Searching People, Dorothy Bass, Editor. In this

book, Sharon Daloz Parks presents the section

on Household Economics and she offers the following

words that I used as a guide in my

understanding of this topic:

Like the word ecumenical and ecology, economics

is rooted in the Greek word oikos, meaning household,

and signifies the management of the household –

arranging what is necessary for well-being. Good economic

practice positive ways of exchanging goods and

services – is about the well-being, the livelihood, of the

whole household. (page 44)

The management of the household,

of the whole household, was something

that I have been involved in at my field education

setting for over four years. I have been the

local pastor of my field education church since

January 2003 and I have developed relationships

with many members of the congregation

during this time. I believe it was because of my

established relationship with the church members,

and ultimately the members of the

Teaching Parish/Site Committee (TP/SC), that

allowed us to quickly establish goals and objectives

as I sought to meet my field education

requirement in the setting where I already

worked. As the pastor, I had a very good understanding

of the specific area where I felt the field

education experience would be able to benefit

me as a student. But I also found it difficult at

times to be able to separate the role of pastor

from that of student. However, with the help of

a very supportive TP/SC, it all came together in

the end.

One of the household economic

field education experiences I worked through

was the result of me being the first pastor

appointed to this church who did not live in the

church parsonage. As someone entering the ministry

as a second-career, it should not be surprising

to know that I have my own house. So

instead of uprooting my wife and two highschool-age

children, we decided that it would be

best for us to remain in our house and make the

40 mile round trip commute to the church.

The church members decided to

rent-out the parsonage, rather than have it sit


ment stated that the utilities would be paid by

the church and the tenants would be responsible

for reimbursing the church for this cost. It was

also decided that the rental income would not

be used to support the general operating budget

of the church. The proceeds would be used to

pay a housing allowance to me and to pay property

taxes on this no longer tax-exempt portion

of property.

The first tenants, a family of four,

moved in and rented the parsonage for two

years. They remained until they purchased a

home of their own, and, after several weeks,

a new family of four moved in. A few months

after the new family’s arrival, the church was

informed that the husband was seriously ill and

the doctors were having a difficult time diagnosing

his situation. In the early days of his illness,

members of the church took turns providing

meals to the family. After a period of time the

Unfortunately, the situation

escalated to the point where the trustees began

eviction proceedings and the tenants stopped

making payments to the church for rent and

utilities. The tenants were ordered by the court

to vacate the parsonage by December 31, which

they did, and at the time of their departure,

the amount owed for rent and utilities was

over $4,000.

In situations like this one it is easy

to say that the right thing to do would have been

to let them stay, to help them through this difficult

time. But how do we determine when we

have gone as far as we can go to help someone?

What measuring stick do we use to let us know

that we have done all that we can to help and

that we have reached a point where enough is

enough? Is there a dollar amount that must be

reached before the decision is made because

someone owes us too much?

In situations like this one it is easy to say that

the right thing to do would have been to ...

family expressed their thankfulness for the

meals and informed the person coordinating

this effort that the meals were no longer needed.

Several months passed with no

further word about the husband’s condition.

Then one day the trustees were informed that the

tenants were behind in reimbursing the church

for the cost of utilities by over $2,000. This is not a

trivial amount of money for a small rural church

and concerns were being expressed. Following

prayerful discussion about the best way to handle

the situation, the trustees talked with the tenants

to determine if, perhaps, they were trying to live

beyond their means. Assured by the tenants that

they could afford to remain in the parsonage, the

tenants continued to occupy the parsonage without

a lease on a month-to-month basis.

This situation was upsetting to

everyone involved. The tenants were forced to

vacate their home because they could not afford to

be where they wanted to be. But were they living

within their means? Were they being truthful with

themselves and with the church about their financial

situation? Were they seeking all of the assistance

available to them through different social

agencies? Could the church have done more to

help them through this situation? Could I have

done more as a pastor or a student? Was this the

right thing to do or does it go against our call to

help the widow and the orphan? Christ came to

proclaim the good news to the poor, but where’s

the good news in all of this? Was this a typical

field educational experience? No. But when it

comes to the management of the household, of

the whole household, we will get involved with

things that won’t always make us smile.


a time that leads toward an often uncomfortable

call for justice? Does it always need to be one

or the other? If both are important, how do

we achieve balance so that Sabbath worship

does not become bogged down in criticisms

but still retains depth? How do we ensure

that Sabbath worship provides restoration

and peace, without becoming merely superfisabbath



Question: Is the Sabbath a day of rest or a day of justice?

It was Christmas Eve. It was also a Sunday, a

day of Sabbath. Morning worship was done and

my supervisor and I were spending a little time

going over what needed to happen at the

Christmas Eve service that night. He asked me

to read and comment on his Christmas

Meditation. The meditation was not one of joyful

celebration as I expected; instead it was a

powerful prophetic call for justice.

At first, I felt this special Sabbath

of Christmas should be a time of joy and mystery

and hope, not one laden with the weight of

the injustices of our world today. Then again, it

was a potent message, one that needed to be

I came home that afternoon and

announced to my husband that I didn’t think I

had a "prophetic" voice because I couldn’t imagine

delivering that kind of a message on

Christmas Eve. And yet, on Christmas night I

found myself writing a poem that wondered

where Jesus would be born if born today. Would

Jesus be born in war-torn Israel, Iraq or Sudan?

I have been thinking since then

about how a minister’s words, attitudes, presence,

prayers and sermons can "shape" the

experience of Sabbath for our congregations.

Is Sabbath a restorative, peaceful time or is it

A minister’s words, attitudes, presence,

prayers and sermons can "shape" the

experience of Sabbath for our congregations.

spoken. It was likely to be heard by more than

the "usual" crowd on Christmas Eve. I suggested

that certain parts of the meditation be "softened"

but noted that this was a message that came

from deep within my supervisor’s heart. The

meditation was uncomfortable for me, yet I

knew its truth.


cial? It seems to me that balance and style of

presentation are critically important, particularly

in the context of a society that has tended

to deemphasize Sabbath time altogether.

Most of us are familiar with the

idea that Sabbath is a time for rest, but how, I

These readings confirmed for me

that Sabbath is about both rest and justice.

Perhaps if we take the time to offer our Sabbath

time to God, to spend this special time with

God in whatever way is most authentic to us,

our work of justice will naturally follow. If we

"taste and see" (as one of our small group members

liked to say) the fruits of Sabbath time with

If we “taste and see” . . . the fruits of Sabbath time with

God, we will want every one to experience it.

wondered, is Sabbath about justice? I decided to

check scripture to see if I could make the connection.

There were two points I found in the

Sabbath commandment (in both Exodus and

Deuteronomy) that struck me. First, Sabbath

time is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. Second,

Sabbath is for every single person, a rest day not

just for some, but for all. Sabbath implies freedom

for even those "enslaved" or oppressed in

our world today. Consider the Sabbath commandment

from Exodus 20:8 and

Deuteronomy 5:12:

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six

days you shall labor and do all your work, but the

seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.

On it you shall not do any work, neither you,

nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant

or maidservant, nor your animals, nor

the alien within your gates. For in six days the

Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and

all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh

day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day

and made it holy.

. . . but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord

your God. . . on it you shall not do any work,

nor your manservant or maidservant . . . so that

your manservant and maidservant may rest,

as you do. Remember that you were slaves in

Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you

out of there with a mighty hand and an

outstretched arm . . .

God, we will want every one to experience it.

On the other hand, our job as pastors is to help

our fellow sojourners on their path and there

are times we may need to remind our community

that Sabbath is not just about renewal, but

about justice for all.

As I reflected back on my

Christmas Eve experience as a field education

student, I realized I had begun to understand

one of the challenges of pastoring: knowing

when to nurture and knowing when to challenge

our faith communities. I had also begun

to see my own Sabbath time as a time with God,

with my center of being, before being sent back

out into the world.

When we practice Sabbath, we

open ourselves to whatever God might provide…

there may be times when we receive joy,

peace, or rest. There may be other times when

we receive strength, perseverance or a call

toward some specific work. When we take the

time to rest in God, our Sabbath doesn’t need

to fit into any precise category. Sabbath doesn’t

need to be either about rest or justice, it can be

about both. Indeed, if we open our Sabbath to

God, we may be surprised by the myriad possibilities

it presents.


saying yes &

saying no


This past year, our field education seminar was organized around the faith

practices described by Dorothy Bass in Practicing Our Faith. My group

focused on "Saying Yes and Saying No", the practice of intentionality

in making choices. Every day we make choices

that have implications for the spiritual journey.

We take risks and open up to the unexpected or

we opt for safety. We accept responsibility or

acquiesce to the decisions of others. We chase

after fixed goals or choose to participate in life as

a dynamic process. The practice of "Saying Yes

and Saying No" cultivates a conscious awareness

of these choices.

I came to my field education church with very

little practical experience in ministry, anxious to

apply my book learning in a real-life setting. I

made a good start. It is worth reflecting on this

adventure in terms of the yes/no faith practice.

1. The Chickpea and the Cook

I was anxious to do everything at once. My

supervisor quoted me the poem by Rumi which

describes an impatient chickpea trying to jump

out of the pot. The cook tells the chickpea to get

back into the stew, so that it will have sufficient

time to develop its flavor.

I came to my field education site expecting to

practice specific skills. My first learning experience

was in the articulation of learning goals.

There was so much to learn, and I could not

realistically expect to do everything in one year.

I had to say yes to a few important goals and

give lower priority others. Without this discipline,

it would have been difficult to do anything

well, and very easy to burn out. Even if I

were able to "do" everything, I might have

missed the point. Field education concerns more

than skills. The point is to integrate the experiences

that occur in the field education setting

and to develop the person inside, the person

who will eventually become a minister.

I said yes to the process of ministerial formation,

which takes time. I accepted the need to stay in the

pot until I am fully cooked, so that one day I may

nourish a congregation, and not cause idigestion.

`2. Ministerial Presence Means

Being Present

One learning goal was to find my voice and presence

as a worship leader. Presence may be

[mis]understood as a ministerial persona. I pursued

the goal of presence in my worship leading,

carefully rehearsing the liturgical elements for

which I was responsible. Actually I overrehearsed,

to avoid making any mistakes, which I

associated with failure. As a result, my performance

did not seem natural. I said the right words,

but was not truly there for the congregation.

I came to realize that ministerial presence is

being present. It requires taking off the mask


ather than putting one on. I observed good role

models in my supervising minister and the religious

education director, who embodied the values

of our faith tradition. My supervisor challenged

me to speak from an outline rather than

a manuscript. I tried this and was pleased with

the result, although it may be some time before I

can give a complete sermon that way. I experienced

the advantage of speaking directly to the

congregation rather than reading to them.

In seeking to develop authentic presence, I have

learned to say no to psychological armor, and

yes to vulnerability, which allows me to make

true contact with people in the congregation.

3. Pastoral Identity: Yes,

I Am a Minister

As I learn the work of a minister I must come to

own it, and make it part of my identity. Early in

the year I became aware that I was missing

opportunities for pastoral conversation. I was so

focused on carrying out my planned duties that

I did not recognize signals from people who

might have been seeking emotional support or

a listening ear. It was as if I were wearing blinders.

When I recognized this issue I was able to

widen the angle of my vision, so to speak. I

began to internalize the ministerial role, so that I

responded as a minister in unplanned moments

as well as planned activities.

A major turning point was the Saturday afternoon

when I received a phone call from one of

the lay leaders, who was coordinating the worship

service that Sunday. She told me the guest

preacher was sick, and asked if I had a sermon

handy. I surprised myself; my immediate

response was Yes! – I have a sermon handy and

I’m ready and willing to lead worship tomorrow.

(Actually I had half a sermon, and I scrambled to

finish it).

In his autobiography, Howard Thurman tells the

story of a pivotal moment when he was a student,

covering the duties for his minister who

was out of town. A parishioner called and said a

man was dying. "They’re asking for a minister.

Are you a minister?" Yes, I am a minister.

4. Leadership: Theological

Reflection with Consequences

In my previous career I was a software developer.

My leadership was of a technical kind; I did

not lead people. But ministry is by definition a

leadership role. The buck stops here. In my field

education experience I encountered situations

where I had to speak up rather than defer to

others. For example, I was scheduled to lead

worship on the Sunday morning of December

24. A big Christmas Eve service was also

planned, and that later service was the focus of

frenzied preparations.

The lay leaders suggested that we cancel the

morning worship because it required additional

resources that were in short supply. Initially I

agreed. But then I reflected on the importance of

hospitality in our faith tradition, and the ethos of

welcoming in the stranger: not only for the

stranger’s benefit, but to open ourselves up to the

world outside, and the possibility of transformation.

I recalled the days when I had felt alone and

the church was there for me. When I told the lay

leaders my thoughts, they immediately changed

their minds. It was as if I pressed lightly on a

door, and the door swung open. We planned a

scaled down worship service and found volunteer

musicians. It went exceedingly well.

In this and other situations I have learned to say

yes to leadership, recognizing when it falls to me

to make a decision affecting others. I have seen

that my theological reflections have consequences,

and this is an empowering insight.

5. Grabbing Hold and Letting Go

"Saying Yes and Saying No" does not represent a

series of static choices, but an ongoing, dynamic

process. There is a time to every purpose: a time

to try, and a time to let happen; a time for beginnings

and a time to say goodbye.

When I began my field education I tried hard to

develop skills, which I understood as tasks. In


seeking to develop pastoral skills I made it a goal

to shake as many hands and start as many conversations

as possible. As the year progressed, I

relaxed and did not try so hard. Paradoxically,

the conversations I had were fewer but more satisfying.

Both phases were necessary: to try hard,

and to relinquish trying. I did not necessarily get

"better" in dealing with people (although probably

so), but I gained perspective.

Similarly, with the field education experience as

a whole: when I first arrived I was like a deer in

headlights. Everything was so unfamiliar. I very

much wanted to please people and do well.

Eventually I let go and just did it. The turning

point was the Sunday when I took the place of

the guest preacher who was sick. I showed

myself and the congregation that I could do it.

Too soon it was time to say goodbye. I have

come to know the congregation just a little bit,

and yet I have formed a deep connection with

them. I have received a brief glimpse of the network

of caring relationships that constitutes this

beloved community. I have had a taste of what it

is like to be a minister, and it is everything I had

hoped it would be.




Being a commuting student at a seminary is not unlike how many people

experience being a member of a congregation. You show up every week

for a few hours and hope to get something out of it: deeper understanding,

better relationships, insights on how to live your

life and do your work, laughter, connection,

energy for the coming week, and/or respite from

the previous days or hours.

Sometimes, on good weeks, you do have a

moment to connect, or you may get an opportunity

to talk about what you heard from the person

at the front of the room. Rarely, unless you

make a significant commitment outside of that

once weekly block of time, do you have the time

and opportunity to get to know someone well or

deeply, or to put what you heard or learned into

practice so that it becomes your own. The experience

that I had in my field education seminar

small group went beyond that rare opportunity:

within months, we became a community.

The chapter by Larry Rasmussen on ”Shaping

Communities" in Practicing Our Faith explains that

communities are shaped by rituals and governance.

Over the course of a school year the creation

of our community demonstrated how rituals

and governance can translate into actions that

matter to everyone in community, and how

those actions in fact form the community. We


created our community starting with a group of nine

people from seven faith traditions: African Methodist

Episcopal, American Baptist, Church of Christ-

Scientist, Episcopal, Quaker, Unitarian Universalist,

and United Church of Christ. We had in common

only that we were in field education and that we all

commuted to school: some were doing field education

in churches; others were in school or health care

names in building community. For our lives in ministry

this activity emphasized that knowing names is

fundamental for relationships with people, and often

overlooked. Although initially intimidating, this ritual

became comfortable and important.

If anyone came in late, the facilitator paused to welcome

that person and let him/her know what we

As a group, we did not offer advice or try to fix the issue;

we were there as companions to the

person on the journey.

agency settings; some are headed for ordination, others

are not; some are married, some are not; some

have children, some do not; some live close by, others

farther away, throughout New England; we are

Hispanic, black, and white, gay and straight. Here’s

how we shaped our community.


We started our sessions on time, an important and

respectful governing rule. If we knew someone was

not going to be with us, we acknowledged that. We

started with a one-word prayer that described how

we were feeling right then, and together these words

were a snapshot of all that we were bringing into the

room that day: traffic, stress, anticipation, hunger, joy,

gratitude, rushing. This brief ritual ended with the

facilitator saying Amen. The one-word prayer

acknowledged that we were coming from different

places, and helped us make the transition to being

present with one another.

Our next ritual was called the name game. The first

person says, "I'm (say own name)." The second person,

says, "I'm (say own name) and this is (name of

first person)." The third person says, "I'm (say own

name), and this is (name of second person) and

(name of first person)." Continue around the circle

until the end when the first person then does all the

names. We continued the name game throughout the

year. This ritual helped us not to assume that everyone

knows or remembers names; it reminded us of

who was present or missing; it affirmed the power of

were doing. We did not wait for people to arrive or go

back and repeat what they had missed, but they were

able to enter into the activity that we were doing.

Appreciation and Noticing

Each time we met, after the one word prayer and the

name game, our facilitator would call for a time

where anyone can express appreciation. Appreciations

were not limited in scope and could be for anyone

in the group or people and things outside the

group. Appreciation was often expressed for the

whole group. Appreciations could be made for

actions, words, qualities, or events.

After we finished expressing appreciation, and in fact

after many activities, the facilitator asked, "What did

you notice?" and often made a list so that we all could

see these responses. This question made us mindful

and made us pay attention. Were we inwardly- or

outwardly-focused? Were we singular or plural in our

focus and expression? How did things change over

time? Particular to the ritual of appreciations, what

impact does expressing gratitude and appreciation

have on both those who express it and those who

receive that expression?

What we learned is that every time we met this time

of appreciation deepened and grew. This time

became incredibly meaningful. Noticing also showed

us how our reactions changed over time and how it

affected our relationships outside the group. Within

the group this ritual engendered trust and started the

gathering of our community with a positive sense of


espect for each other, and helped us look at

someone who was noted in the appreciation

with new fondness even if we didn’t experience

the reason for the appreciation ourselves. Again,

we looked forward to this part of our ritual and

often came ready to express appreciations.

Checking In and Focused


Each time we gathered we had time when one

person talked and either a partner or the whole

group listened. This uninterrupted time when

an individual could report while others listened

attentively was an incredible blessing. We used

a variety of techniques to start conversations

and break into conversation partners, discussion

questions, opinion statements, and open

space topics, and, most frequently, a regular

timed check-in with four minutes of update and

30 seconds of silent prayer for each person. If

you have never been able to talk on a regular

basis about something important to you, without

interruption, while a group of people listens

carefully, you may be astonished at how important

that time and those people become.

An abbreviated version of an intensive and

deeply-focused listening process from the

Quaker tradition, the clearness committee, also

helped us shape our community. Each of us had

the opportunity to be the focus person, who

brought an issue before the group; the group

asked questions to help the focus person go

deeper spiritually to which the focus person

does not respond aloud. As a group, we did not

offer advice or try to fix the issue; we were there

as companions to the person on the journey.

Those questions, which were recorded by a

scribe, were often so powerful and applicable to

each of us that we made copies for all of us to

take away for reflection. God is economical, our

facilitator would say.

The Integrative Seminar: Faith Practices in Context

worked with other faith practices, I think it is

important to note how interrelated those practices

are and how they also shaped our community.

Hospitality was a practice of our community,

in an unplanned but consistent fashion with

various people bringing chocolate, nuts and

pretzels to help us make it through the late

afternoon time that we met. Testimony would

be another way to describe both our appreciations

and our check-in time, as we shared stories

of our journey. Discernment was certainly

the central reason behind clearness committees,

but was often a result of our smaller check in

and listening times as well, as insights would

pop out of the dialog. For many of us at different

times, healing came through the listening

and prayers of this community. Saying yes and

saying no in difficult situations became easier

with the support and affirmation of this community.

Prayer, however short, was the beginning

and end of each time that we met. And

each thirty seconds or more of quiet time to

"hold a person in our hearts and in God’s presence"

had its own reinforcement of keeping

Sabbath. All of these faith practices also helped

us shape our community.

While we sat in a circle each week, the shape of

this community became a circle, woven with

strong bonds of trust, respect, and deep faith.

We will carry each of the faith practices and the

rules and rituals that worked in the building of

this community out into congregations, classrooms,

and workplaces. I will express for all of

us the appreciation of what each person in the

group brought and continues to bring both in

presence and in memory: the hugs, the laughter,

the tears, the wisdom and the prayers. We

each made this a commitment and a time not to

be missed, a time and a group that I already

miss, but will carry with me as a centering and

central place in my seminary experience.

Integrating Other Faith


Because other small groups in the course


More magazines by this user
Similar magazines