Thursday, February 27, 2014

Twenty-Something Female-Clergy FAQ's

Life on H Street is a largely secular affair, and most of the people I run into and have conversations with aren't really familiar with the Episcopal church or clergy. Here's a list of the top ten questions I get on a regular basis in coffee shops, bars and cocktail parties in DC. I'm always open to questions, so ask away either online or in person, but I thought it would be interesting to a quick compendium of FAQs. 

So, what do you do, exactly?

So, I happen to think that clergy have the easiest and hardest job in the entire world. It's easiest, because your job is to be yourself. It's the hardest, because your job is to be yourself. What I mean by that is while a lot of my day is taken up with writing, studying, praying, preparing sermons, creating lesson plans, strategic planning, getting ready for Sunday worship and leading meetings, some of the most important work I do is just talking to people about how their life is going, listening, and being present and available. I am very much still learning.

What are you wearing?

So, I'm wearing an Anglican collar, which is basically a godforsaken piece of white plastic that wraps around my neck. I'm wearing it not because it's comfortable (believe me, it's not, and don't sneeze in one of the suckers without grabbing the front first) but because certain social situations dictate that I should be wearing it. I also wear it as a way to signal to other people that I represent the church in a special way. So, the collar is less like a black belt in martial arts and more like a firefighter uniform. We tell little kids if they get lost that they should speak to someone in a uniform, and that a person in a uniform can help them get un-lost. Well, the collar is exactly the same thing, except I'm probably just as lost as you. But I'll walk with you for a while if you like.

What should I call you?

Well, Becky's my name, so that will work nicely. Titles like "Father" and "Mother" or "Reverend" or "Pastor" or "Deacon" work well for some parishes and for some people, but I'd really rather just be called Becky. Besides, if we're having this conversation, you probably don't belong to my parish. But thanks for asking, because some people really do prefer to be called X, Y, or Z. That was kind of you.

Can you get married?

Yes, Episcopal clergy are permitted to marry, and I am married to a man with the patience of Job. 

Can you have kids?

I'm not really sure, we haven't intentionally tried.... seriously folks, I think that what's being asked is "Are you permitted by your vocation to start a family, unlike monks, nuns or Catholic priests?" but I've only been asked this as a follow up question to "Can you get married?" If you step back and think about it, it's actually a very personal question. I don't get upset, but it's super awkward if you think about what is actually being asked.

Can you drink?

I'm assuming you mean alcohol. Yes, please! Not too much though, everything in moderation. Just like the rest of the population, some Episcopal clergy choose to drink, and some choose to abstain. Whatever works for them. Personally, I prefer pilsners, lagers and koelsh year round, White Russians, tannic red wines and buttery Chards in the winter, and gin drinks in the summer. 

Oh my God, I can't believe I just said that in front of you. I'm so sorry, that word just slipped out.

Please! You would not believe what I said on the way here when that Maryland driver cut me off. But seriously, clergy are people who professionally listen to the breadth of human experience and all that entails, which includes whatever you need to say to express yourself. Don't worry about it. And yes, I have and do swear in church. that like Lutheran/Catholic/Methodist/Presbyterian?

Yes! I'll take any point of reference that you have. Different types of Christianity are way similar than we want to admit, for some reason. One thing that makes our church distinct is the acceptance and affirmation of LGBT folks as ordained leaders, although other mainline Protestants are (thankfully) catching up.

Hey, want to come to this party on Saturday? It starts at 9:00pm.

Thanks for the invitation! I can probably stop by and say hi, but I really can't stay, because Saturdays are a work night for me. No one wants a hungover priest, and nobody wants to be a hungover priest. I really do appreciate it. Also, Fridays, and basically any night that isn't Saturday, I'm up for anything.

I know these people who are getting married, can you marry them?

It depends. I'm restricted by what I am permitted and not permitted to do by the canons of the church, which is basically church law. The best case scenario is that the couple (by the way, this couple can be same-gendered or not) find a church community if they don't already have one, and get married in the context of that community because we believe that strong marriages are supported by being in a faith community. However, if the canonical requirements are met, then I look at weddings as a conversation starter, and a chance to show people that clergy aren't a bunch of lame haters. So, maybe. It depends.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Storytelling 101

Every Tuesday night for the last month I've been participating in a story telling class with the fine people over at SpeakeasyDC, and I've been loving it. The instructors are super experienced, my classmates are an interesting and diverse group of people, and I'm learning spades about crafting, practicing, and editing a compelling story. Class has been great. I've been thinking about this experience constantly, but what I've been mulling over isn't class, or even my own story. I'm stuck on what happened last Tuesday.

Last Tuesday, instead of class, we were instructed to go the "Second Tuesday" Speakeasy show at Town. What I found there astounded me -- although we were an hour early, there wasn't a seat to be found. As the time approached, more people than I thought could fit in there crowded around the edges. Despite the frigid temperatures outside, it was actually starting to get a little warm inside. And what happened next was spellbinding. One after the other, nine people stood up and told a true story, and the entire time there was absolute silence. No one was fiddling with their phones. Not one stray chirp or alert. No whispers. We were enraptured by what was happening on stage.

Maybe I don't get out enough, but I haven't seen a crowd with such singular attention in a long time. What I can't put my finger on is why. Telling stories is about as low-tech as you can get. It's been around forever -- before Homer, before Abraham. The stories were entertaining, witty and sometimes heartbreaking, but so are movies and people text through them. There was the element of performance, of a real person, but as a preacher I know that a live person talking to someone is not enough to hold an entire crowd's attention for seven minutes (maybe I need to step up my preaching game). During a sermon, there's always a bit of chaos somewhere. But not at Speakeasy.

The only thing I can think of that's drawing such huge crowds (entirely unadvertised, except by website and word of mouth) is a hunger for stories such as these. The stories must be autobiographical, and despite the peculiarity of each experience, interpretations of the self have a universal quality, because as humans we're always interpreting our own selves. The stories were also vulnerable, a quality forsaken in our digital weltunschauung. The vulnerability, given to us by each of the story tellers, felt like a gift, as though that person were entrusting with a part of their selves, and trusting us to not poke at their wounds. The story tellers trusted us to empathize with them, and in the empathy, we were allowed to all be human together. I'm grateful.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Chasuble Shopping

After a sudden flurry of emails and phone calls, it seems as though the day I have been waiting, working and praying for has finally been scheduled: my priestly ordination. I've been in what is known as "the process" in Episcopal circles since the spring of 2005. And since the process started before "the process" started, this choice of vocation and its implications have been in my life even longer. The process has been struggle and grace, anger and love, denial and affirmation, stumbling block and acceptance. It's made me miserable down to the very depths of my soul, and when I couldn't take the misery anymore and let it go, it made me free. In many ways, the process has been with me for so long, and formed me so much, that I almost can't conceive of a life without it.

And so despite talking about it for years, being ordained to the deaconate, and discussing dates and times, the thought that I will actually be a full-fledged priest didn't even really register until my rector sat me down and told me that I need to pick out a red chasuble and stole. 

Holy shit. A chasuble. For wearing. For wearing when I do the things that priests do. To quote Liz Lemon, "What the what."  So, I'm chasuble shopping for March 27th, at 7:00pm, at St. Thomas' Episcopal Parish, Dupont Circle. All--the faithful, the curious, the intrepid--are welcome. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Open Books, Open Minds

The Northeast Library re-opened on Monday (covered by the DCist). There’ll even be a grand opening party on Saturday from 10:00am-4:00pm if you have time to drop by. I haven’t gone to see the inside yet, but I look forward to going and getting my first DC public library card sometime this week, and nosing around the building. 

Northeast Branch of the DC Public Library System
D&7 NE   Feb. 3, 2014

There’s always been something really magical to me about a library. It’s not just the books, I have far too many books at home. Nor is it the amount of information held in one building, because in this day and age, the supercomputer in my pocket holds exponentially more information than any one building ever could. Going to a community library seems to be more than just books or information. Rather, what I love about it seems to rest on the public side of the public library -- it’s public, it’s of the people. When you go to the library, you engage in a shared ritual of hushed sacredness surrounding the seeking and sharing of knowledge. First the trip to the catalog, the scribbling of some esoteric code, then hunting silently among the stacks, following the rubrics on the walls, reading the signs pointing to what you seek. Mumbling the decimal system under your breath like an unarticulated prayer, pulling the books and rifling through them, sometimes meeting dead ends, sometimes meeting an epiphany. Although entirely secular, there is a liturgy to the library, and in the liturgy and silence, in the wonder and curiosity, the library seems a holy space. 

In this reverence of the seeking and sharing of knowledge, perhaps I'm more akin to Bill Nye over Ken Ham in last night's debate at the Creationism Museum in Kentucky, but that's good. I believe that truth does, and will, set you free. But where we find that truth, be it science, or philosophy, or relationships, or religion, doesn't matter to me.

So go visit your library.