Wednesday, October 26, 2005


My bird feeder ministry is growing in wings and beaks these days.

Outcast and runaway fledglings who frequent my office window/ safe haven-for- aerial types have started to spread the word around town that the church lady's soup kitchen now offers daily lunch specials.

The variety of visitors has picked up. In an effort to economically accomodate the growing fly- through traffic I've added multi-grain cheerios to the feeder mix, as well as a delectable three seed combo selection for my birdfriends to snack on.

Delicate brown and tan wrens, puffy black chested birds and cardinals are the regulars. Nameless breeds of other small bodied chirpers coast through daily. There's also a wicked witch of the west Hawk who parks his talons in a nearby balcony tree. I think he's too big to land and stand on the sill. There's a frightful whisper inside me that says he prefers smaller winged creatures and four legged scampering sorts to seeds anyway.

Today, we stretched our welcoming arms to a new feathered friend. Gulliver in stature and donning flourescent neckware, our new friend is a very overpuffed pigeon. I call him Pepe. He reminds me of Pepe le Pew, a mischievious romantic rascal of a cartoon skunk from TV. The burley pigeon releases a continuing string of charismatic coos that echo off the brick walls in the alley outside my window.Pepe has a lovely array of irredescent colors mixed into his neck feathers, and his facial features are distinct as well. I would say he is NOT a candidate for a Birdland last resort makeover show.

Pepe sought me out during a recent staff meeting by sitting- one floor up from my office bird oasis -upon the windowsill beside our meeting room. He sat like a sad puppy for the longest time just looking in at the lot of us as we worked our way through the weekly chaos of staff meeting.

Patiently, he sat/ she sat in wait. When our meeting dissolved into talk of a lunch break, she flew down to the birdfeeder and parked in the flower pot-turned-secondary feeder. She was so big, that the pot was lost underneath her. She could not figure out how to stand along the side and nibble at the seeds. The pot tilted when she tried to perch and peck. I could tell she was discouraged. Such a big kid in the midst of so many lilliputian flyers has to feel awkward.

I decided it was time to expand the chow lounge. I wanted to offer our new friend a comfortable place to snack, one more fitting with her luxurious size so I sprinkled a few grains along the brick sill on either side of the feeder.

It seemed like Pepe was in need of friends, and a place to hang out. I didn't want her size to deter the smaller patrons from coming. Freeing up the feeding trough brought back the daily customers; we'll see if Pepe settles in. If and when he/she does,we'll see about what we can do to keep building a nurturing mini-community around him/her at the Church Lady Cafeteria.

Meeting Pepe reminds me that community is important for all creatures. I'm lucky to have a very safe haven at my home church and a cozy place within my work church.I'd like to see that happen all around. Consider looking for subtle signs of connection in your world the "nest" time you're out and about. Clusters of birds in the trees, conversations among interested office mates who have come to gather around the office at "feeding time", trees that sway in unison , their leaves waving at a small line of cumulus billowing by overhead, a feathered flock of mystery birds floating by in the autumn wind. It's all community in different shapes and places. and it's all important for helping us to grow together.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Concentration warning.

When focusing on difficult concepts in job performance, such as trying to appease an interested church member by printing out a summary of all zip codes that attend church regularly, please take note that when focusing so much energy on trying to understand a task that appears to hold no particular value, you may lose some other grounded thinking and you may by complete accident make sundry errors.

Say for example, you discover that as neat as it is to identify attendees via their own personal zip code, you may also notice that the software is not summary friendly, and without your knowledge has taken upon itself to print 272 pages of a full-bodied list of member zips.

If, by unfortunate chance, you are at that exact moment also answering the phone at work, and if, by another unfortunate chance, you happen to be listening to a blind voice speaking broken English, then you may make further mistakes in your multi-tasking.

If , while you are on the phone trying to decipher the question on the other end of the line, you realize that your printer is going AWOL, then, in your panic, you may mistake the printer settings option of 'cancel job' with 'delete printer'. If this happens, please fight the urge to scream, " OH MY GOD. I'VE DELETED MY FREAKING PRINTER. I'VE SENT IT INTO CYBERSPACE and OUR TECH MAGICIAN IS OUT OF THE BUILDING.

You can't be sure that the person on the other end of the phone isn't bilingual, and you really don't want to take the chance of insulting the poor soul who is simply calling to ask for some help or directions.

On the other hand, if the person calling is in reality the same person who has called you every day for the last week asking for the same "assistance" such as fuel for his heater, then the damage is minimal and the time it took you to vent may also clear your head enough to realize that it is a rare occasion for someone to use a heater when it is 102 degrees outside, and maybe the caller is not being truthful in his requests.

See? There's a happy side to this- isn't there? Maybe I should read this again and see if I can find it... wait.. oh, yeah. the happy ending is that the Tech magician Did, in fact return and rescue my precious 6L from cyberspace, and the caller did finally reveal himself as the same guy who had called me every day for the last several days. The accent was a last attempt to get some spending money for the fair. Well, he fessed up, and took the time to tell me that I really shouldn't use such flair and language on the phone and he'll just have to seek help elsewhere, like maybe the Baptist church down the street.


Halloween frights

I have learned so much lately working in these hallowed halls. Now that Halloween is around the corner, I feel the season sort of fits into some of the challenges I've faced in the last few days.

Church lingo is such a quagmire of history, politics, verbage baggage. This time of year, we in the halls of Methodism are faced with something called a "Charge conference". I recall last year, when I was but a new fuzzy church baby chick, this word gave me nightmares. I didn't know what it was, I didn't know who anybody or anything much was around me, and that darn phrase kept being thrown out into the ductwork throughout the building. ANy time it was mentioned, someone or something within the confines of the concrete and brick would shudder or moan.

It has taken me a year to get up the courage to see exactly what this blame Charge Conference is. Can you keep a secret? CC is but a bully word. Ah!! a collection of syllables designed to shake and bake the clergy and other church staff. and it works.

In the Baptist world, it is called a Congregational Meeting. I mean, it's nothing like I had pictured in my mind. What a relief. What a temporary relief. It's not a helmet-clad maniac running a muck, but at the same time, Charge Conference isn't a friendly game of Bunko, either.

It is a very paperwork and report driven gathering of people who at least once a year meet to greet new rules, review old ones, and the height of the night is the sacrificial offering of documents that verify the church being charged is in fact, intact according to the rule book that is called the Discipline. The discipline rules, man. If only I had known this when my four daughters were younger. I could have actually had the ability to hold a hard bound book before them during moments of dissention.
" You are going to bed because the "Discipline" says so right here on page 276." I quote,"In cooperation with the cabinet ( that means parental units).... may choose one or more of the following options for a program of remedial action....( If you opt to not to go to bed in a timely fashion, you may choose from the following,)." Leave of absence, voluntary or involuntary (#354- and I can say that walking on your own constitutes voluntary, while being dragged kicking and screaming equals involuntary), Surrender ministerial office( thus giving up your rights to argue), Peer support and supervision ( in the form of siblings)

When faced with these directives, I'm sure my girls would have made simplier choices. I mean you can bore them to death and they will eventually beg to be tucked in, I suppose. But, ah, I slide into the abyss. Bottom line and point here is that I am continuing to learn and this week I learned to stand up to a Charge conference and call it what it is. A lot of work.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Helpful hint from the trenches

I have discovered a way to get more of the congregation involved. This is a problem that touches many churches across the Globe. We want to empower our "lay" people but I find some challenges in that. First of all, I wonder to myself. ......."Lay person?" Do I really want to be one of those? It implies someone who doesn't stand up for their beliefs, someone who can be railroaded, a wimp, weakling, a walrus laying in a slug-yoga posezzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

So that is the first problem that I see. Secondly I can say that here, at least it is often a puzzle figuring how to attract people to committee positions. I see reactions such as, "How many teeth must I pull? What do I have to do?" and "How long is my sentence? How long do I have to serve?" The church staff seeks to empower the "lay" people, we want them to see the bright side of being a working part of the big old Church machine. It's fun! or it can be,or it might be, well, maybe, you never know til you try, right? Through time, Churches have tried many methods of inviting lay people to come into the fold. Committee Titles that sound appealing and uplifting have been tried... Administrative Board ( This sounds like you, too can be in charge) and lay leadership ( lead others like yourself to lay- the low energy committee), Church and Family Life ( a picnic for sure) Trustees ( Trust me on this, okay?) and many many others. Fellowship Committee is similar to the Good ship Lollipop, perhaps. Hospitality is bound to be full of kind and hospitable folks... you get my thinking here, right?

If titles fail, sometimes food helps. "Oh, yeah, I'll sign up. That's the one that always serves brownies." or "That's the vegan task force" and " I've heard they offer comfort food and have retreats" Retreats is another story altogether for another day.....

Location location location.... " This committee meets on the first floor right next to the exit" This committee meets in the sanctuary of the Columbarium, where quiet and good ideas meet" etc..
Bottom line is that until today, there hasn't really been a successful way to get people to sign up.

Until today, I said. Until today.

This week has been incredibly popcorned with to dos. I started wearing my life jacket mid week and usually I don't have to do that til Thursday afternoons. So you can imagine how I was feeling, over done and a little swimmy. I got a call from a very chipper parishoner, Mary Lee. "Melanie! Hey! I just got my reminder card for the upcoming Worship Committee!!"
I was thrilled. This was just the news I needed. Some small indication that I had in deed been able to do my job in a timely fashion. She didn't say I got my reminder card for the meeting that happened last week, oh. no.It was a reminder in just the way a reminder should be. on time.
I replied with relieved excitement. " Yippee!! whew. I'm so glad."
Janie paused. "Um, Melanie. the thing is, that I'm on Board of Trustees."
oh. oh no. uh oh.

I sent out a new set of reminders to the right people, but later realized that this could be a good thing. I mean think about it. Trustees coming to Worship, Worship going to Staff Parish, Staff Parish attending Finance... We could all learn about each other and maybe join other people's groups. Hey. It COULD work. Well, it might. oh shut up.

You may wonder what I did about my mix up? Well, of course I did what any other self respecting Church chick would do. I UN invited Board of Trustees . Simple. You are cordially UN-invited to attend the Worship Committee meeting. What else could I do?
oh. Good grief. So much to learn. and my evaluation is coming up. oh. good grief.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Pure un obliterated decadence

I've been grounded from using the churchwide intercom-via phone. I used to use it to announce staff meetings, then to try to track the pastor, and well, if you've read the tale, you know why it was a perfectly reasonable grounding that came upon me months ago. The thing is, I can't let it go.
Try as I might. I like to think I can be connected to the whole church with the simple push of a button.
Our Associate Pastor recognizes this craving and on occasion will give me a wink of permission to call someone, to look for someone, or to announce something very very important. So important that I have to use the intercom. But those instances are far between each other.
So today, just because I could in the emptiness of the office I played Barry Manilow at full force on this Friday afternoon, copa cabana and I rang in the weekend. So there.

Overheard in the hallway

Here's how to transfer a job to someone else, while sounding like you've been working hard when maybe you haven't.... Overheard in the hallway- conversation between two of the cleaning crew.

"I'm swamped down here in ladies, are you done ?You've been up there a while, Ida."
"Yeah, I've been here since early, and I'm tarred. You can finish up, I'm going home."
"What needs doin'?"
"Lord, Eldon, I've got all these rooms up here near done except the hallway, the bathrooms, the trash and the rest of the floor."

White Board Cautionary Tales

The white board serves a very important purpose at many churches. It offers a place to write joys and concerns. Ours is on the wall of our main hallway and everyone who enters the building can’t go far without passing right by it. Our board houses the latest death and destruction cases and then the new babes. It feels like an extreme collection. Good and bad with nothing in the middle.

That’s why I decided to get my own office door “joy” board, so we could create a balance and add things like good grades, contest winning, promotions and other stuff that mortars between the birth and death biz of life.

I had a bit of a shock this morning when I came in and found my joy board had gone missing. I immediately sent out a staff wide email screaming, WHERE IS MY JOY BOARD? One answer came back from a staff member who hadn’t a clue what in the world I was whining about. His reply made me laugh out loud. Something like, “I don't know; I'm looking for mine, too. Some days they're hard to find.”

I later found it had been hiding in the staff kitchen. I figured since the white board parent had been overflowing with death and destruction, my little joy board had become overwhelmed and had gone for a joy ride, only to find himself without the means to flee the building. From the looks of it, he had managed to pull himself off of the adhesive tape pads that held him to the door, but after that. ...Well. I’m sorry he couldn’t get away from the stress, but I was glad to have him back. As soon as we got him back on the door, a fellow staffer wrote a timely joy on him and I thought he looked brighter and a bit more relaxed than before. Whew. If there’s one thing you don’t want to lose, in this crazy world, it’s any little bit of joy, whether it is on a board or in the smile of a friendly face.

Our board has been flooded with news. It is clear that vacation is over, pal.O-ver. Just when I thought we couldn’t possibly fit another announcement on the hallway white board, we got another - Rest in Peace call. I stood in the hallway, looking at the crowded board and decided to erase one listing, make it smaller and then squeeze the new one into the crunch. Knowing how likely it was for such a simple task to be anything but- I called the reliable retired receptionist volunteer to be my witness in the erasure.

Erasing can be dangerous. My experience is that the act of erasing can sometimes also erase one’s personal brain cells. Statistics show that in some cases as many as 4- 6 million cells can be wiped away in one clean board swipe. I thought I had protected myself by having a friendly witness.
“Okay, Ruby, I’m going to take out J.R. Rothenstein. Okay? Help me remember that. Rothenstein. J.R. “
“Rothenstein? Okay.”
I gripped the soft flannel block and touched the board. A cool chill ran up my arm, but I stood firm. “ J. R. Rothenstein”
Taking a deep breath, I slowly drove the bulldozing erasure over the words. “J.R. Rothenstein.”
As soon as the open space appeared, I wrote in a smaller print. “J.R. Rothenstein.”

Whew. Done. I backed away from the board and stood, arms folded across my chest, next to my friend, the receptionist.
“Well, you did it. Good work.”

Then it hit me. I looked carefully at the miniature words I had worked so hard to apply. My mind went blank. Something was missing.
I looked closer. Closed my eyes tight, trying to concentrate. “Uh, Ruby? Do you remember what was going ON with J.R. Rothenstein?” she looked blankly at me. “ Um, no, not really. I’d better get back to the phones now.”
Deserted by my own volunteer. How rude. I called after her. “ I don’t think it was a baby. Or a hospital. I think it was a death. Maybe his father.” I wrote "father died" up by his name. Then I called a staff member on speaker phone.
“Do you recall JR on the board?”
“Do you remember what happened to him?”
“ I think his mother died.”
I ran out and switched the father to mother.
A few minutes later, she emailed me the latest prayer request and there it was plain as day. J.R. father deceased.
So I changed it back.
Please, friends, heed my plea. Approach the white board in your own job site with caution.

Church Chick