ruling elder commissioned to particular pastoral service


In my early twenties, I went to a Southern Baptist break-out session on “Is seminary for me?” They made it very clear that seminary was not for me (though it was for my friend Steve).

In my early thirties, I realized that the Baptists weren’t the be-all and end-all of the Christian faith and began exploring other options. I also began a Ph.D. in English because that seemed to be where I was headed.

In my early forties (with my Ph.D.), I looked at the guys in my Presbyterian church who were going to seminary and looking at ordination, thought, “They’re nice guys, but they don’t have anything I don’t except an unquestioned belief that they can do this.” I began working at the church. I took a seminary course for people like me who weren’t going to do an M.Div., but who longed to learn and lead.

Eventually, someone (the chair of the committee on preparation for ministry, also my pastor’s spouse) said, “you could become a Commissioned Local Pastor.” The denominational term is Commissioned Ruling Elder, but the Presbytery admits that “pastor” is a better term and means more to people and local means that it is only here and only now. One is ordained for life. One is commissioned for 3 years.

So I went through the process. And then we had to decide if my role in my congregation was actually pastoral. Eventually we decided it was. And on Sunday I was commissioned. The Presbyterians have a *thing* about every ruling elder already being ordained. So. My ordination is as an elder–not as a minister of word and sacrament. But. For the next three years (renewable), in this Presbytery, I have all the rights of a Minister of Word and Sacrament. I can consecrate the elements in communion. I can baptize. I can moderate a session meeting (Presbyterians have no hierarchy of ministry, but a distinctive is that it is the Pastors who moderate Session (council). Most other protestant denominations have lay members moderate their councils/vestries. Presbyterians also have few technical “lay” members. If you have been ordained an elder or deacon, you are ordained–not lay.)

This is a position that was created in the 90s because rural areas and ethnic congregations were finding themselves unable to find and/or pay a full Minister of Word and Sacrament (and there are Presbytery Minimums). Finding someone with good training but not a complete seminary course became a possibility. 30 years later, as churches find themselves unable to pay for an associate pastor, they are beginning to look at commissioned folks in that spot. It’s a new idea, and it’s where I find myself. The odd thing is the ambiguity I feel. I believe in education. I believe it means something. If our congregation could afford an associate, that person wouldn’t look like me (I am a decade younger than my colleague, but otherwise, we are the same demographic: middle-aged, middle-class white women. Our parents were all public school teachers. Ideally, she would prefer to have a male colleague who is ethnically more like our neighborhood. I can’t argue. Yet here I am.)

Presbyterians want to be unambiguous. There are lots of rules. So, I was commissioned on Sunday–not ordained (because I was ordained in 2010)–but the service was similar to an ordination. And I was given the gifts that are symbolic of ministry: a robe, a stole, and a communion cup and plate (and my parents, I believe, will gift me with a portable communion set).

My role in my congregation won’t change much. I will be able to preside at the communion table even if my Colleagues are absent. I could do a baptism, but I can’t imagine that happening because people want the *Pastor* to preside. I can moderate a session meeting if it becomes important (which it did in November when my colleague broke her arm, but I hadn’t been commissioned yet). But mostly I will continue to work on the orders of worship, to prepare “creative” worship services, to work to make sure youth and children are part of worship leadership. And, occasionally, I’ll preach.

I could be called to serve at another congregation in the Presbytery. If that happens, we will have to see what that means. I am open to being led by the Spirit, but I am also aware that my family is settled here. (I was looking for photos for the Nurture Committee’s annual report and almost sent my son’s birthday party photo because every person present is from this congregation.)

It feels like a culmination of a lifetime of seeking for me. In college, I wanted to be the one who worked on worship, but I was relegated to the one who did “discipleship” because I was studying to be a teacher and I am not a singer. I used to joke about wanting to preach, except it wasn’t really a joke for me, I just passed it off that way because that’s how it was taken. I was amazed when I joined the Presbyterian church how differently the same Scripture could be interpreted. They not only had a place for me as a woman, but they also had a place for me as an academic and a word smith and I didn’t have to be able to sing. I found my home.

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an ordination


The last week of high school for both of us.

15 years ago, the Chaplain was in my class. It was my final year teaching high school and her senior year. I grew particularly close to the Chaplain and her friends as we studied the great British writers together, and I remain in close touch with the one who became a high school English teacher (and still credits me with that, which awes me because she is so amazing) and with the Chaplain.

The Chaplain went off to to UC San Diego to pursue a bachelor’s degree and I went off to Purdue University to pursue a Master’s and Ph.D. We met up for lunch when we were all back on vacation.

The Chaplain’s family was not particularly religious, but when she was in high school, she was part of an Evangelical church many of the high school kids attended. I was Southern Baptist. As she went to college, she became disillusioned with Evangelicalism and began attending a Methodist church. When I went across country to do graduate work, part of what I was leaving–along with an untenable job–was the church of my youth. I sampled many churches in my two years in Indiana.

In 2004, I came back to Southern California to be married. The Chaplain and friends were there. The Chaplain spent that school year in England. Computerguy and I visited her there over Christmas break. (I think it was that year. If not, it was the next.) When she came back and graduated, the Chaplain moved to New York City to teach with AmeriCorps. (We visited her in New York and went to Evensong at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine which was walking distance from her house.) She did this for two years. While she was in New York, she began attending a Presbyterian church. As a couple, Computerguy and I found our way to the Presbyterians. One morning when the Chaplain was visiting and we were eating brunch together, she said, “I’ve started going to a Presbyterian church.” We said, “So have we.” a year or so later she said, “I think I am going to actually join the Presbyterian church.” We said, “So are we.”


Visiting the Chaplain and her Pastor Spouse in Boston.

And so on. When her AmeriCorps term was up, the Chaplain moved to Boston and began Harvard Divinity School as I finished my Ph.D. in English and began to be more involved in my church. She finished school and was married (and we attended the wedding in California, though not the graduation in Cambridge, but we did visit her in Boston more than once). She found work as a chaplain and I began to work part time at my church. I began to follow a non-traditional path into ministry, taking classes meant for leaders within congregations, and looking at the possibility of being commissioned as a local pastor. She began to be serious about going through the steps to ordination.

And so. On Sunday, the Chaplain will be ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. I will fly out and witness and participate as a representative of her youth, but mostly because we have been friends for 15 years. Because she is a good Presbyterian, she has sent out the order of worship with everyone listed and instructions for when and where to meet so we can go over it. It is a lovely service. And I know all the hymns (Here I Am, For Everyone Born, The Summons), not because either of us grew up with them, but because they are part of that 20th century hymnody that is dear to Presbyterians, evidently on both coasts. The named participants include 5 men and 7 women (yes, I counted) and 6 and 6 clergy/not clergy. Well done, my friend, well done. Very Presbyterian of you.

This is why I found a home in the Presbyterian church. We are egalitarian. Any person can be ordained to any position. And, in theory, we have no hierarchy of ministry. There are usually both clergy and congregation members on the chancel in a worship service. In our Presbyteries and General Assemblies, we have even numbers of teaching elder and ruling elder (clergy/elder) representatives. On our Sessions the ruling elders outweigh the teaching elders. And we are thoughtful and intentional about the way we do things. We think about it, maybe too much. The prayers, the hymns, the scriptures, the sermon, the bits and bobs, the pictures on the bulletin cover fit the purpose of the service (hence the above named hymns in an ordination service: “Here I am, Lord…I will go, Lord…” “For everyone born, a place at the table…” “Will you come and follow me if I but call your name…” And we are Word (Christ) and word (scripture) centered. (And Presbyterians aren’t perfect and much of what I have said one could say about any mainline church. I think we were both drawn to Presbyterianism as a denomination, but also to the particular leaders and congregations we found ourselves in. It matters.)

Fifteen years ago, I would have had no idea where either of us would have found ourselves. I was going to study English and continue teaching high school or college. She was off to study political science. Yet… Providence. As I heard a pastor say last night at a Session meeting I was observing, “I call that a God incident.”


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summer drama adventure

The girl child is at drama camp today and tomorrow and all next week. This week is a 2 day “drama intensive.” She has been doing drama camp since she was 7, but this is the first year she is old enough for the “Drama Intensive.” I hope she enjoys the smaller, older group. We will see the showcase tomorrow evening. (This is how they manage the 4th of July week–2-day Princess Academy for little girls in the morning and Drama Intensive for older kids in the afternoon.)

Next week she will do traditional drama camp with her friend. They are doing Beauty and the Beast. These are plays written by the drama camp folks, carefully done to avoid copyright infringement, so we will see what they do. Honestly, I totally respect this group. They write original plays and give the kids a great week of drama fun. On Monday they do drama games and basic techniques. Tuesday they receive their parts. Wednesday and Thursday they rehearse, and Friday they put on the play. They have a bunch of song and dance numbers that everyone participates in, so no one is offstage very long. If there are major roles, they are split among actors (e.g. Dorothy #4).

Meanwhile, a young adult friend of ours asked if the girl child and I would be interested in having parts in a play. His grandparents (amazing people) have put their hearts and souls into the “Garcia Center for the Arts” in our impoverished downtown. I told Xaq that we would totally be interested. So the girl child and I will be in a community play as a mother and daughter. It’s a small part, the final page of the script, but I am totally enamored of this opportunity. It is something we love in a city we support for people we respect. We are blessed!

(Mom and Dad, it will be sometime in August. We’ll let you know. But we have very small parts.)


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I had taken a graduated student and friend out for dinner to celebrate his 5 on the AP Exam. We stopped at a bookstore after dinner and saw a Harry Potter display. I asked if he thought I would like it and he enthusiastically encouraged me to buy it. I never looked back. Later, he and I (and other people) went to several of the midnight releases of books and movies (though I got too old to keep up).

About my second Sunday at our church the “reflection before the service” written in the order of worship was a quote from Madeleine L’Engle and then the pastor talked about Harry Potter during the sermon. I was hooked (and we have talked much about both ML’E and HP since).

Now my kids are all about Harry Potter. Wordgirl has read all the books and Shyguy is all about the first 3 movies (he keeps going back and forth on whether he wants to watch the 4th one or not). We like to tell the girl child that she was at the midnight release of book 7, dressed in a S.P.E.W. onesie I made her. And about 3:00 that morning, sitting in my in-law’s upstairs rec room, I cried out in surprise as I read Dumbledore’s mother’s name. Dumbledore’s mother is a somewhat ambiguous character and not necessarily one I would have intentionally named a child after (Hermione, yes. Ginny, yes. Even Luna, yes.), but there is a delight in the coincidence, especially since it does not seem to be a particularly common name.

So, the Harry Potter books and world delight me, and it is fun to share it with students, friends, and now my children. I think they are extraordinary. Way to go, Jo!


Midnight in Boise waiting for HP (not sure where the original photos are stored, but this will do).

Posted in About Me, Books, The Kids | 1 Comment



Is there a difference between an incentive, a reward, and/or a celebration?


I could write for days about  back in the day when sports trumped everything and now when they award academic achievement in kindergarten and give out t-shirts for high test scores, and how much of that comes simply from being privileged. (I would have loved receiving a t-shirt for a high standardized test score. And then I never would have worn it because I would be embarrassed for having it. And that may summarize my relationship with incentives and awards assemblies.)

Now my kid is having all the conversations I used to. And it brings up all the feelings in me.

A year or so ago, Wordgirl said to me, “My friends get to go to Disneyland for getting good grades.”

I said, “We’re never going to go to Disneyland for you getting good grades. We love that you get good grades. We want you to get good grades. We expect you to get good grades. It’s not hard for you to get good grades. If you want to go to Disneyland for something, do something that’s a challenge. If you stick with karate and get your green belt, I’ll take you to Disneyland.” It was spontaneous. I don’t know if it was a right or good thing to do or not. We had just started karate. She had earned her first stripe on her white belt. The green belt that came after 3 stripes seemed like a pretty good achievement to me.

karate promotion

Karate Promotion Day. My phone died just before the ceremony where she received her green belt.

She has stuck with karate. Twice a week, every week. She works hard at it. She goes to the promotions and does well. I am so proud of her. And on June 10, she earned her green belt. I don’t think she earned it in order to go to Disneyland, but because she wanted to earn the rank, because it means something and I think she is proud of herself for sticking with it and doing it, but I don’t really know.


I kept my part of the bargain. In the end, she picked Knott’s Berry Farm over Disneyland, and we went and made the day mostly about her, (I took her on the “big” rides while Computerguy and the boy did the less “thrilling” rides.) and I think it was a good celebration of a challenging achievement.

awards 2017

Fourth Grade Awards!

And the truth is, I am incredibly proud of her academic achievements. Lots of kids received awards for lots of things. She was one of three kids in her grade who read over a million words (and she read over three million, 2 million more than either of the boys) and one of two who achieved Principal’s Honor Roll (honor roll in all subjects all year). I am bursting with pride. And for her personal achievements. She has stuck with piano and worked hard at it, even though she doesn’t like it. She does get up every morning and get herself ready without being pushed (well, maybe hurried occasionally). She takes care of her gecko every night without fail and without reminder. And I try to tell her and show her that I notice, that it matters, as much as I can. And we do celebrate quietly every time there is an awards assembly. This kid has never, ever, not once needed an incentive to do a thing. (Even piano, which she really and truly does not care for, she just does because she is supposed to. And I’m not going to even touch incentivizing that one.) So just because she doesn’t need an incentive, why shouldn’t she get a reward. Or am I just being semantic?

Posted in About Me, The Kids


Youth Sunday Kids small

Pentecost has quickly become my one of my favorite Holy days, maybe my very favorite. So much less pressure. So important the coming of the Spirit. We wear red and orange and yellow and throw streamers and release doves and have a day of joy and remembrance of the coming of the Spirit and the birthday of the church.

Youth Sunday, which I have taken point on the last several years, has been the first Sunday in June for the last several years, and so back in September the youth coordinator put it on the calendar that way. No one thought much about it until a couple months ago when suddenly people were disgruntled: What, no choir on Pentecost!?! What, we have to do Pentecost? But we want to do our own thing!

Since we are trying hard to honor our scheduling, we stuck with Pentecost, and the kids ran with it. In a way, for me, because our planning time was shorter this year as there was some transition in youth group leadership, I was grateful for the theme. We could take it and run with it, but not try to start from scratch (what do you want to do? I dunno, what do you want to do?).

Before we began, I asked the kids what they remembered about Pentecost, and what they might hope to include. They said they wanted to do some traditions like throwing streamers and releasing doves, and they wanted to do something new and they wanted lots of music. When we read the Pentecost story, the two things that stood out to them were the different languages–they didn’t remember that from past years, though we have sometimes had different languages spoken–and the 3000 added to their number through baptism.

Languages: The kids decided they wanted to use different languages. Several of them are fluent in Spanish, one has taken French in school, one has been learning Dutch on the computer, and one, who is a quarter Pilipino, offered to learn the Tagalog from his grandmother.

Baptism: I offered that they could do a remembrance of baptism ritual if they wanted. The two oldest had participated in one as confirmands and it had been memorable for them. Since we weren’t going to have formal sermons–they could have but didn’t want to; two are waiting for next year when they are seniors–this gave some substance to the service. They talked about what baptism meant and what it means to renew our baptismal covenant; they prayed over the water, and then they disbursed and blessed the congregation: Child of God, Remember your baptism and be thankful. (I cribbed, with attribution of course, from a Methodist service. The Methodists share their liturgies freely online and I am grateful.)

Music: We don’t have a CCLI license which is always an issue on Youth Sunday, so this year I stood my ground firmly and told them they needed to pick songs from the hymnals. There may or may not have been one exception, but we had lots of songs. The kids sang “Spirit of Gentleness” as the anthem with help from the younger kids on the refrain. It was the best anthem they have sung in years. I don’t know if it was because it was a hymn they knew or because we practiced it several times just before or because we have several kids who are involved in choirs, or because I asked a choir member to help us, probably all of the above, but it came together really well. The other songs were congregational songs, favorites of youth and grown ups, like “Lord of the Dance” and “We Are One in the Spirit” and, to add to the languages, “Cantad al Señor” with Spanish and a trumpet introduction. We closed with “As a Fire Is Meant For Burning.” And the choir did sing while we did the baptism remembrance.

It was a good Pentecost service. It was fresh and new and held on to what is dear to the congregation. Several people said, “Best Youth Sunday Service Ever,” for what that’s worth. Every year people say, “Best Youth Sunday Service Ever.” (Though a grandfather said it in front of his young adult grandson and then had to backpedal a bit.) I wouldn’t want it to become the custom to have Youth Sunday on Pentecost, because, how do you change it up? But it was lovely and meaningful and spirit-filled for this year.

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community college

Have I written about the community college gig yet? It seems like I’ve meant to, but it’ keat me kind if busy. If I have, feel free to forgive me and move on.

When I was young-ish and hopeful and maybe arrogant and in graduate school, I eschewed the very idea of community college because my perception was that that meant teaching almost exclusively composition, and I was willing to teach composition to get through grad school, but that was about it. A wise woman gently corrected me with her experience of loving the teaching and teaching both comp and lit.

When I finished graduate school, it was the height of the recession/housing bust–which hit the Inland Empire particularly hard–and there were no jobs to be had, full-time, adjunct, or otherwise. I also, at that point, had two very small children.

I made one attempt at a job search and didn’t even get a nibble, not even a call-back for more information. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

I began to work at the church, and the undeveloped call of ministry developed delightfully, but I always knew that teaching offered better pay, and that at some point, once the kids were in school, I should get back to it. But there was that original concern again in a different form, adjuncting, wherever it might be, private, state, or community college, meant teaching composition. I’ve had plenty of training and plenty of experience, but it has never been my first love.

Thanks to a church friend, I got a quarter’s worth of teaching business writing at the state college. The pay was good. The experience was demoralizing. I was definitely teaching for the paycheck. There were moments of course, and students, who made it “worth it,” but mostly it was just hard work.

And then a conversation in the hallway at church led to the discovery of a retiring literature professor at the community  college and an interview with the interim dean who was a friend of my friend. It turned out no one on the faculty wanted to teach the Brit Lit survey and they needed an adjunct for the job. Enter an adjunct candidate with an early Brit lit Ph.D. plus experience in both high school and college teaching. It was perfect timing, Providential even.

And so this year I have taught the entire British Literature survey + a developmental composition class this year. In the Brit Lit class each semester was different (c. 500-1799 and 1800-2017), but that meant that a handful of students carried over and took both semester. The comp class was the same prep which meant new students, but I got to use the same syllabus and refine what I had done.

Here is what I have learned: I love community college. I am totally enamored. The students want to be there and care about what they are learning in a way university freshmen never did in the comp classes I taught through grad school. There are a few kids straight out of high school, but most of them have at least a couple years of maturity and experience and defined goals for being there.  The two classes are at the extreme ends of community college: a comp class 2 steps down from English 101 and a fully transferable lit class. The composition students, at least those who stick with it, have a tremendous amount of determination and perseverance.  The lit students are bright and interested. Yes, there are concerns as these kids have work obligations and family obligations and life issues, and I worry about them, but they are really trying, and they tend toward kindness. And that gets me every time.

That’s the students. As a teacher, I have autonomy in the classroom, yet there is support for faculty, including for adjunct faculty. The sort of sad state of things that has most classes taught by adjunct faculty means that they have things well set-up for adjuncts. We have a meeting each semester that I’d part administration and information, part staff development, and part inspirational. There are also workshops all semester long, a number of which we can receive pay. My schedule hasn’t allowed me to take advantage this year,  but I hope to next year.

finally, I have found that my work in the church and my work at the college have complemented each other this year. I am a better teacher for what I have learned about minstry, and the work I do at the school helps keep me grounded for the work I do at church.

It’s hard work, and I’ve been busy,  but it feels like it’s all come together for this time and this place. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Posted in About Me, Church, Teaching | 4 Comments