DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Mothering and Cemeteries

Written by: on May 30, 2019

My grandpa is dying. Last night, we got home from visiting him while he is still doing well enough to interact with us. My family originates from Reading, Michigan and while I love living in California, there is something nostalgic about visiting the old homestead. Because we were there over Memorial Day, we went to the Moscow Plains cemetery where legacies of Denning’s (my maiden name) were buried, and my grandfather will soon rest in peace. We laid flowers on the graves of my great-great-grandfather and mother and wandered around, hearing stories of who such and such was and what they did from my great-uncle Gene. As we meandered back and forth, my youngest son got tired and bored pretty quickly, so my husband took him back to the car to play. But my oldest son, who will be seven in a few weeks, stuck it out with me, and we walked around, hand in hand, through the rows and rows of tombstones. At one point, I looked down at him as he was quietly admiring an ornate headstone and I had a flashback of myself as a child, wandering that same cemetery, seeing those same headstones, hand in hand with my own family. I remember feeling this weird sense of fascination with my history. Back then, I wondered where I came from and if I would be buried there someday too. This week, I felt a sense of peace there, amongst those old headstones and no matter how long I’m gone, the Moscow Plains cemetery centers me.


“In bringing up children we help situate them in their own story by telling the stories of the family they belong to, narrating the lives of the parents, grandparents, and their early years, as well as the stories of the community in which they are living. At its best this understanding of a past is a helpful way of encouraging growth and development into the future; it expresses that life is a changing unfolding story in which we all play our part. It teaches the importance of contextualizing life; who we are is shaped by where we come from and who we come from, not in a way that necessarily binds us but in a way that affects us.”[1]


In her book What Clergy Do: Especially When it Looks Like Nothing, Emma Percy makes significant parallels between parish ministry and motherhood, citing that neither role can be formulaic, but shared wisdom and shared language can be of some help.[2] Percy comes from Parish ministry, so she speaks with rich authenticity and candor about the role of being a parish priest. Percy, and her husband Martyn, now work in higher education where she is the Welfare Dean and Chaplain for Trinity College at the University of Oxford.[3] Throughout the eight chapters in the book, Percy draws on both her role as a mother, as well as a priest, encouraging both to think about themselves in relation to three main areas: as a labourer, sustaining life and making things[4]; as a practice shaped by particular goals and demands[5], and as an “ordinary good enough mother”[6] or one who is consistent in meeting the needs of the Church and the child.


I found her take on both mothering and parish ministry quite refreshing, especially in light of my own work in both arenas. This week in particular, I felt called to the work of the parish but moreso the unique nature of the work of parenting. In this book, I felt compelled to help myself and my sons remember the good work of vocational ministry that is contextual to each situation and each family. My sons, while they are Rouggly’s, are also Denning’s, and it is important for them to understand both sides to themselves. In the same way, the Church is God’s bride, but it’s situated in a particular context and needs to understand both God and the community. When it comes down to it, it’s the power of community that aids both. The Church is there for the betterment of the community, but it is made up of a broken group of people who are strung together to form a network of community. The family is a more insular community, but is part of a large generational lineage that came before and will come after.


Wandering the cemetery this week, holding hands with my son, I wondered if he would remember these names, these headstones, these graves. Would he remember my papa, his great-papa? Would he remember the Denning’s who came before him? Would he know that he is from a lineage of loving and dedicated men and women on both sides of his family? Would he understand that while he is born and raised a Californian, he has one foot in Michigan and one foot in Missouri where his dad’s family is from? Will he see that he has strong farmers’ hands and a heart in the shape of a tractor? While I can’t say for certain he will know those things, I will mother him in a way that reminds him of who he is. I will mother him in way that situates him in the context of a familial community and a church community that loves him and will do anything for him. And any time he forgets, a good, long walk around the Moscow Plains cemetery ought to do the trick.


[1] Emma Percy, What Clergy Do: Especially When it Looks Like Nothing (SPCK Publishing: London, UK, 2014), 53.

[2] Ibid., 3.

[3]“Emma Percy: Welfare Dean and Chaplain,” Profiles, Trinity College of University of Oxford, accessed May 30, 2019,

[4] Emma Percy, What Clergy Do: Especially When it Looks Like Nothing (SPCK Publishing: London, UK, 2014), 24.

[5] Ibid., 25.

[6]  Ibid., 27.

About the Author


Karen Rouggly

Karen Rouggly is the Director for Mobilization in the Center for Student Action at Azusa Pacific University. She develops transformational experiences for students serving locally, nationally, and internationally. She completed an MA in Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary and is passionate about community development, transformational service and helping students understand vocation and service. Karen is also an active member at the Vineyard Church Glendora where she is a small group leader and serves on the teaching team. She is also a mom to two sweet boys, wife to an amazing guy, and loves being a friend to many.

8 responses to “Mothering and Cemeteries”

  1. Mario Hood says:

    Awesome post Karen. You bring up and interesting twist as I didn’t think about this book in the form of vocational calling but it makes sense. I think relational-based leadership is the model Jesus sets forth and therefore can/should be applied everywhere.

    • mm Karen Rouggly says:

      Thanks Mario! I appreciate the kind words. I really felt like this book, and the work of ministry, comes from a deep place of calling – as does parenting, right? Thanks!

  2. mm Mary Mims says:

    Karen, you took us all on a journey and reminded us of the simple things that make up the complexities of our lives, and that’s where ministry starts. Glad you still have a foot in Michigan.

  3. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Thanks so much for sharing with us the journey of your extended family and lineage. Many blessings on you and your family as your grandpa is in the final season of his life. I am grateful you found Percy’s work to be refreshing for both your ministry and calling to parish ministry and mothering. I pray you and your family have a great summer, H

  4. Karen, I was imagining you and your family meandering through the tombstones inscribed with names, dates, words of wisdom and then tried to picture you instilling in them the important things in life and what will truly last.

    Those are precision moments. One that your kids will remember and pass on. It’s a beautiful picture of what our church leaders must do — help us remember God’s faithfulness it the past to help us look forward to the future with hope and to encourage us today to press on.

    Thanks for sharing Karen.

  5. Digby Wilkinson says:

    Thanks, Karen. An interesting reflection on the power of lineage and especially the story we tell of that lineage. Isn’t it interesting that we can choose how we tell the story without altering the facts? I never really knew my grandparents, so I had to piece together their story from the fragments my parents gave me. But it wasn’t easy. My mother has suffered from debilitating bipolar disorder. For as long as I can remember the illness robbed our childhoods of any clear sense of family identity and history. My mother painted a bleak picture of our wider family, while my father did quite the opposite. Over time I got to meet the family who live on the other side of the world and found that the story mum told me was not the story at all. Kids believe their mothers more than anyone else, so I guess it’s important that mothers have redeemed hearts and minds to tell a story of a life that leaves their children with a greater sense of who they are, where they come from, and how important they are in the greater story too.

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