This week’s text by Emma Percy is one that resonates deeply with me in my vocation and personal life. Percy’s book, What Clergy Do: Especially when it Looks Like Nothing, uses the metaphor of mothering to relate to parish priests and their role as caretakers and disciple makers. Indeed, this week, the text not only spoke to how I see ministry and my role as a mother, but how the church may nurture, train up, and send out disciples.
Before I became a parent, I thought mothering would offer a unique and close-proximity opportunity to disciple a child in the way of Jesus. After becoming a mom to two, I realize that while true, it is also much more difficult and sacrificial than I had expected. Sleepless nights, constant interruptions, loss of freedom of schedule, and discipline were not part of the glamour of parenting. Yet, in the challenges, there has been a deepening in my own soul as to what it means to be a disciple and disciple-maker. The beautiful parts when children are happy and well behaved are sweet, but the rough and tumble moments and seasons have invited me to integrate my faith in ways I never would have chosen. This opportunity for integration has circled back to affect not only my family but also those who are recipients of God’s ministry though me.
Of all of Percy’s chapters, one in particular stuck out because of its thread woven through many aspects of my life, ministry, and research. “Weaning: the art of managing change,” will anchor my reflection on change in its various capacities in my life and work of late.
Currently, I am weaning Lucy. She is ten months and can walk better than she crawls and has a deep strength of soul in her. While Lucy has not one tooth yet, she is serious about her meals, often out eating her brother, gnawing on ciabatta, avocado, beets, noodles, and anything else within her grasp. She is in transition and is becoming less dependent upon me to nourish her as she once was. I realize this is important for her growth and more a sadness for me personally than for her. At the same time, this is a fun, albeit messy, stage.
Weaning is happening in two ways in my ministry life currently. Our church is over-staffed for the financial place of our congregation and needs to restructure. This is causing a ripple effect toward both the clergy and the laity. Two of our team are leaving at the end of June, myself and another. The remainder of our team is evaluating their roles and future. In addition, our congregation did not fully expect this and is considering what role they must take to continue to support the ministry. Many are wondering if this is temporary, and feel as if we are entering a wilderness of the unknown. The questions Percy asks in her conclusion on change are apt for our community: “What does this change ask of them? What are they being asked to give up and have they a realistic understanding of where the change is taking them?” This transition will call for a uniting of our people, a willingness to step up in ways that were preciously covered by staff, and a deeper shared ownership of the ministry to our community. This may cause some to need to let go of their comfortable role in merely attending. In all honesty, I do not know if our clergy or congregation have a realistic understanding of where this major change is taking us. Our remaining clergy will need to attend to further underlying issues of resistance through connection and nurture toward healing and progress into the future. Our laity will have to choose whether they will respond and adapt to new expectations and growth challenges in the wake of these changes.
My own response has been a sense of release, knowing the church, my family, and my own soul need this transition. There is an opportunity for margin and more depth in my work with pastors through our Thriving initiative. In addition, my own research on diversity and equity in the Wesleyan Tradition will be given more space for development. For these, as well as more opportunity to slow my family’s pace, I am grateful.
Weaning a Tradition
Among the Wesleyan Tradition transition is necessary to remain close to our roots. Wesleyans have long held beliefs on equity and inclusion of women and people of color in both laity and clergy. Yet, the lure of church growth movements and CEO models have repressed theological heritage for a bland evangelism of numbers over kingdom conversion. The difficult truth is that most of our denominations are unwilling to act on our theology at the most impacting levels. One specific example of this reality from last Tuesday was the Foursquare denomination, who had the opportunity to elect a female president and our own LGP9 cohort member, Tammy Dunahoo, “who would have been the first female president since the denomination’s founder, Aimee Semple McPherson.” As Dr. Leah Payne explains, Tammy made her way up through the ranks from congregation to executive, but even the most qualified woman, was not received to lead the denomination. Later this summer both the Free Methodists and the Church of God Anderson will be electing new executive leadership, and while neither have persons of color on the ballot, there is an opportunity to include women in these posts.
All in all, Percy’s closing statement on change sums up much of my personal and ministry reflections in this season: “There will be things that need to be let go of, new things to be embraced and a continual process of trying to build up a sense of communal interdependence in this place.”
 Percy, Emma. What Clergy Do: Especially when it looks like nothing (p. 125). SPCK. Kindle Edition.
 Percy, Emma. What Clergy Do: Especially when it looks like nothing (p. 126). SPCK. Kindle Edition.