Tag Archives: UCC

Thoughts on Pride from a Straight, White, Cis-Gender Clergy Woman

June is Pride Month! My pride tee shirt is on its way! Two of them, actually! I couldn’t pick just one. No worries, I’ll be sure to post some pics once they arrive!

What to share about Pride Month? What on earth do I have to add–if anything– to the conversation? Here are the few cents I humbly add:

As a woman in a male-dominated profession, I understand what it means to have power and privilege. It’s not a “problem” to have power or privilege, the real challenge, though, is how we use what we are given to effect change in the world. I choose to use what power and privilege I have as a white, cis-gender, heterosexual woman clergy to say:

  • I affirm all people, all genders and sexualities, in their God-created wonderfulness.
  • I respect all humans in their rights to live with integrity and honesty.
  • I honor the great diversity of humanity in gender and sexuality, and believe the glorious rainbow of humans is PROOF of the power of our Creator-Artist-Poet God.

While all humans have the capacity to understand and offer hospitality, I believe that because of their unique experiences, LGBTQ+ people can be especially gifted in this deeply spiritual and biblical practice. Following the example of Jesus himself, they join other folks on the margins, standing with their arms open-wide, to offer grace and welcome to those pushed aside by mainstream society.

Lastly, in a world where such a beautiful thing as family can be so broken and dysfunctional, the LGBTQ+ community has reclaimed the word and redefined the concept in a powerful way that has seeped back into all aspects of our larger culture. Of course I know folks have been making “families of choice” rather than “blood” since the beginning of time, but to ignore the contribution of the LBGTQ+ community here would be to deny their unique offering to the concept, and the freedom and healing it has offered to so many broken and rejected people. Sharing my own family with gay and lesbian friends, and being welcomed into others’ families as surrogate mom or sister is not only a privilege, but is so healing and empowering to me, my husband and my kids.

When my own journey took me down the path of interracial love and marriage, and I faced rejection and judgment from my family, the people who picked me up, held my hand when I cried, and listened to my story were my gay and lesbian friends. “We’ve been there,” they told me. When my family used phrases like “you chose this” and “how could you shame us this way,” my gay and lesbian friends not only cared about me, but they UNDERSTOOD me because they had shared the same pain, even more so than I in most cases.

At times when I didn’t have blood family to rely on, LGBTQ+ friends claimed me and Allen as their own. They welcomed us and affirmed us, they cared for us and shared in our heartache and laughter.

I only hope that in my efforts to be an ally now, I can repay a portion of their kindness and love. This month, and all the months, I stand humbly and proudly alongside you and offer my support, gratitude and love.

Twenty Years of Preparation, Part 2

29496747_10213784597221913_6685827013879529472_nThis part of the story should be subtitled, “My Mom Life.”  Because for 12 years, in another of those neat little boxes in my mind, I put all of my experiences in raising my son Aaron, diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and a developmental disability.  For most of my career, while I am happy to share stories about the joy Aaron brings to our lives, I’ve kept the tough parts about our journey to myself.

I guess I’ve always seen those tough parts as what Allen and I share as Aaron’s parents, and somehow in my mind I’ve separated it from my life as a minister.  Schlepping Aaron around from doctor to doctor, to see therapists and specialists, to be evaluated and poked and prodded… Carting him each week to music therapy, each month for med checks… those are things I do gratefully as Aaron’s mom.

Before I go any further, I must stop and do a total “mom thing.”  I mentioned before Aaron is an awesome kid, but did I mention that he is also amazing, hilarious and super-cute? He loves to sing, he’s in love with a girl named Esther, he’s acquiring a great little sense of humor, and he loves riding his bike.  No doubt, he is a gift from God to the life of our family, and even Mark thinks he’s a pretty awesome big brother.

Here’s an Aaron-joke:  What’s the difference between a guitar and a fish?  You can’t TUNA fish!

OK, ’nuff bragging… back to the story:

I have always played our struggles with Aaron fairly close to the vest.  I suppose it’s my “issue,” but I have never wanted it to seem as if Aaron is a burden, because he isn’t.  Or that he’s more difficult than any other child, because he isn’t.  Truly, raising Aaron is about as easy and as challenging as raising our other son.  I have felt very protective not to over-share about Aaron in order to get sympathy or attention, and have often erred on the side of under-sharing.

And I’ve never really integrated my life as a minister with my mom life, until recently.  When I came to my new call at Pilgrim UCC, I discovered Allen and I weren’t the only family raising a child on the autism spectrum, nor were we the only family that included someone with a disability.  In fact, as we share our journey with this congregation, that particular bond is not only a strong one, but an incredibly common one.

We share the privilege of raising a child on the spectrum with several families at our church.  And since coming to Pilgrim, I have found a colleague who shares a similar journey.  More and more, I  have “coming out” as a parent raising a child on the spectrum, and a parent of a child with a disability, and instead of finding pity (which I feared), I have found strength, friendship, encouragement, wisdom, and love!  

My chaplain friends’ ears might perk up at the word “pity.”  And that would certainly be a wise thing to do.  Whose pity might I be fearful of?  Other people’s or my own?  Since I’m doing these posts for the purpose of examining my own call journey, I’ll address that question separately to give it the honesty it deserves.

Needless to say, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually integrating parts of my life that I had foolishly and intentionally kept separate has opened a whole new playing field for God to work in my life, my church and my ministry. 

Twenty Years of Preparation, Part 1

My first job out of seminary was the first place that hired me so I could pay the bills and live on my own in New York City.  I ended up working as an admin at Barnard College in the Office of Disability Services.  I worked with a passionate disability advocate named Susan Quinby, and learned an incredible amount not only from her, but also the students I interacted with each day.

Working at Barnard gave me the experience to move to my next job, an Assistant Editor at the John Milton Society for the Blind.  It was an organization started by Helen Keller to provide religious resources for the blind and visually impaired.  While there, I edited a digest magazine for children that was published in Braille, and put together a fairly exhaustive large print publication that was a resource of religious materials– everything from Bibles in large print and cassette (it was a long time ago!) to audio versions of Sunday School lessons for various denominations.

By the time I got to the JMS, I was already deep into defining my calling to ministry and completing my requirements for ordination in the United Church of Christ.  When I left the JMS to go back to seminary to take a few classes, I packed away all my experience working with people who have disabilities and disability advocacy into a box labeled “Not Relevant for Ministry,” and shoved it into the back of my mind.

While I always had opinions about accessibility in church council meetings, I really and truly let that box of experience collect dust in the back of my mind for many years.  Not even as my own child was diagnosed with autism did I connect those past experiences.

What about my son?  Aaron brought an entirely new dimension not only to my life (he’s a pretty awesome kid!), but also a whole new level to my denial of what God has been putting right in front of me for twenty years!  

Story to be continued…

The Glover Christmas Letter 2015

Dear Friends,

This year comes to an end with a lot of changes, and has brought the Glover family to a place of excitement to see what our new year holds.  What kind of year was 2015?  Well, it’s been a year, to quote my ever-eloquent husband.

To put the best stuff up front, before you get tired of reading, Allen and I can sum up our year with a few short bullet points, lessons we’ve learned.  Perhaps these lessons are not so profound, and truth be told, we could learn them over again every year, yet for us right now here’s what life boils down to:

  • Health is an incredible gift that must be worked at, treasured and never taken for granted.
  • True community where you can be yourself is a rare find.
  • Kids and parents, hug them tight and keep them close while you have them.

This year's tree has a bird theme-- with a wise owl on top and about 50 handmade ornaments by yours truly!
This year’s tree has a bird theme– with a wise owl on top and about 50 handmade ornaments by yours truly!

2015 ended six years of service at St. John’s UCC in Catonsville, Maryland.  We’ve settled the family in Howard County in a little townhouse, and moved the boys into the local elementary school.  They both were having some trouble in Baltimore County schools, but in the new system they are both experiencing much-improved academic and social success!

Aaron’s talking more, not always a good thing (ha!), and his reading and writing have dramatically improved in 3rd grade.  He still loves Music Therapy, enjoying his second year with the talented Ms. Kerry.  Mark loves his 2nd grade class, and is making friends, doing great things in math, and enjoying a new-found love of graphic novels.

Last winter seemed too long in many ways:  I worried for my dad’s health, and Allen lost his father.  The experience did draw Allen and his sister Katina into a closer relationship, for which he’s very grateful.

I got inspired to start researching family genealogy again.  So far, we got Jenn’s family back to Irish, French, Swiss and German roots, and took Allen’s dad’s side back to John’s Island, South Carolina.  Now we just need a trip to Jamaica to research Allen’s mom’s side.

This summer, I took the boys, my parents and two cousins on a trip to Branson, MO.  We enjoyed a great stopover at my grandmother’s house in Tennessee.  In Springfield, we enjoyed a mini family reunion, and got to see about 40 of our Sowell-side family.  Given how much worry we’ve suffered about Dad’s health (he’s in remission now, but we worry always), it was good for everyone to get to spend some time with Granny and Pappaw.

I spent the summer interviewing with new churches, and announced in November that I will be the new pastor at Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Wheaton, Maryland.  Pilgrim is progressive, Open and Affirming (our UCC lingo for LGBT-welcoming churches), and had women pastors back in the 80’s—I think that’s so great!  All of us can’t wait until January when my service officially begins!

On a personal note of triumph for me, I’ve lost 60 pounds since the beginning of the summer.  It’s been a TON of hard work, and there’s still more work to do.  I haven’t felt this kind of personal achievement in a long time—it’s changed my way of thinking and acting and my energy is so much greater.  I feel proud that health is the goal far more than appearance.  Although looking thinner and wearing smaller clothing sure is nice.

Allen’s getting fitter, too, and both of us are enjoying Saturdays spent at the gym with the boys.  Mark and Aaron are taking jujitsu and swim lessons, and both are making progress, getting stronger and more coordinated.

Allen’s still in real estate in New York, working out of a small office in Brooklyn a few days a week, then telecommuting on days he’s in Maryland.  The commute is tough, but we both love living in Maryland and plan to build our home here.  We both look forward to settling down in our own home, and pray that day will come in the next year or two.

Our family hopes this letter finds you all healthy and happy.  If this year wasn’t what you’d hoped, next year holds the promise of something better.  We wish all our friends a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, and a Blessed and Peaceful New Year!

Love from our family to yours!

The Glovers

Being Neighborly

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I can’t wait for Halloween this year!  Costumes for the boys, check.  Mom and Dad coordinated costumes, check.  Candy to give out, check.

Here’s one of the most exciting parts for me:  for the first Halloween in six years, we have neighbors.  So often I have preached about neighbors, biblical challenges to be neighborly and love one’s neighbor, and I have not had to “practice what I preached.”  Sort of.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I loved living in a parsonage and have always had a wide view of neighbor that included not only actual neighbors, but also church members, community members, friends, staff of local businesses and (most recently) residents of a close-by assisted living facility.

So in a broad sense, I did have neighbors.  But in a more traditional sense, this year is the first year my kids and I will ring the doorbells next door and across the street and down the block.  And those doorbells will actually be on a street we live on instead of a friend’s street in a neighborhood we don’t know.

The whole family is excited, frankly.  The boys have neighborhood buddies they’ve met on the bus.  My husband and I are getting to know the families across the street.  We’ve even met a family at the gym who lives two streets over.  (Every time I see the dad there, even though I do know his name, I call out, “Hey, neighbor!”  It just doesn’t get old.)

And what better day to “practice” being neighborly than Halloween?  I saw it on an old high school friend’s FB page one time and her thoughts rang so true:  Halloween is one of the only times of the year when we actually open our doors to strangers, when we get excited to see who’s knocking, and when we welcome those strangers with gifts (treats) and smiles.  We are warm, we are inviting, we are happy to greet those strangers– dressed as all manner of outcasts from zombies to vampires to superheroes to Muppets (that’s us this year!)

On Halloween, Darth Vader and Yoda can walk side by side around the neighborhood.  When Batman and the Joker see one another on opposite sides of the street, squeals of delight usually ensue.  Princesses, kings and queens, fairies, and robots–heck, even angels and devils–find community and camaraderie in the shared goal of filling their bags with treats.  Parents and grandparents and designated grown-ups of all types nod knowingly and smile at one another.  It’s magical.  There’s not another day of the year quite like it.  And here’s the awesome thing– all that diversity, sworn enemies invading the same streets for candy, and I’ve never seen a protester with any kind of a sign saying, “God hates Miss Piggy.”  Nope, not one, ever.

My illustration is getting a little heavy-handed, but you get the idea.  If only… we could be as warm and welcoming and inclusive (and celebratory) of difference on the other 364 days of the year.  Then we might begin to scratch the surface of what it truly means to be a neighbor.

Separated from God? No More!

A belated Easter sermon, excerpted:

Now, let us think for a moment how this scripture from the Gospel of Mark ends—the women run away, terrified.  They were afraid.  Afraid.  That’s it?  It’s finished?  There’s nothing more to the story?  They were scared and ran off?

As I thought about the end of his life, I couldn’t help but think about the beginning of Jesus’ life as well—there’s another passage we read at Christmas, one of the birth stories from Luke this time, that talks of the angels’ proclamation to the shepherds.  After hearing and seeing angelic beings all around them, the shepherds had the most logical of reactions—they were terrified, “sore afraid” says the Charlie Brown version from King James.

In our love of Jesus, in our desire to make Jesus “accessible” to all of those who do not know him, we usually focus on the fact that he was welcoming and loving and kind and gentle—just think for a moment of all the words you might use to describe Jesus to someone who did not have a relationship with him.

Yet when we look at the beginning and the ending of his life, we see that folks were afraid. Afraid.  They were afraid at this birth, and here at his resurrection they are afraid again.

Why, I would ask, why fear?  Is Jesus terrifying?  Should we fear him?  Not just the shepherds and the women at the tomb… but I think if we looked deep into our own hearts we might find some of that same fear when it comes to the realities we are called to proclaim at Christmas and Easter.

See, these are the times of the year when we ask you “get real” with Jesus—when Christ is born, we aren’t just having a baby shower every year at Advent and Christmas, we are proclaiming that God was born flesh to live among us, to know us, experience our humanity, and to save us.  We proclaim at Christmas the wonder of the incarnation—that Christ can live in you, too.  And it’s wonderful, but if we take it seriously, it can be a little scary.

Here at Easter, we proclaim that Christ, who took on humanity and who took on the weight of humanity’s sin, stepped into the gap of separation between us and our Creator and said NO MORE!  This rift, this torn relationship cannot continue any longer.  Easter says that we are NO MORE separated from God, that the Christ who lives within us lives forever more and invites us—me and you and everyone here—to share in that eternal life, to share in that unconditional grace and love.

We say it at Christmas, too—but maybe we all get distracted by the thought of the baby—when we take these truths seriously, when we do more than celebrate Easter, when we do more than celebrate the resurrection, when we actually claim it and live it in our lives, when we let it shape us and mold us and change us, when we understand that we are no longer bound by sin, when we get in our heads that God loved us just that much, that death and sin will not have the final word in our lives and that because Christ lives in us RIGHT NOW our lives can be different, RIGHT NOW our lives can be changed—when we do this, when we take this truth seriously, when we understand it is not just a truth OUT THERE but a truth IN HERE, in my life and in your life, then it IS scary!

It is scary when we hear these words not as a story but as a truth for our lives.  When we understand this is a living text that leaps off the page and speaks to us right now, right where we are, needing love and forgiveness and grace and welcome.

Jesus is the resurrection and the life:  to know Jesus is to know resurrection in your life, it is to know the possibility of change and new life… but it also is to know death.  Resurrection is an invitation to transformation—not when you die, not only when we die, but RIGHT NOW!  This is the power of what happened to Jesus two thousand years ago—this is why our God is so awesome, and this is what most Christians don’t understand.  Or don’t really believe.  Or maybe don’t want.

We don’t want to change.  We don’t want to be different.  Because change and difference in our lives are uncomfortable and scary and sound like way too much work!  We don’t want to ask ourselves the tough question I’m going to ask right now, the one God asks all the time:  what in our lives need to die for us to know God more closely?  What in our lives needs to die for us to walk transformed in Christ?

Easter is scary, and it asks us to be willing to take the risk of change.  Yet we know that it will be life-affirming, we know it will be healing, we know it will be joyous, we know it will bring us to wholeness, we know it will bring us a feeling of completeness and love and mercy we have never known before…

Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, and we can be raised too, if we only let go and accept God’s invitation to transformation.  And of course there is fear and trembling along the way—we felt that fear yesterday and the days before… we know we can overcome those things because we stand here today in joy.

We know the invitation, we know the fear, and friends we also must be honest about the need.  We as individuals and we as a church NEED new life, we need to be changed, to be transformed, to be made whole again.  As I said when I started, I need resurrection.  I need Easter.  And let me say it really really clearly—I need to not just talk about it and preach about it and celebrate it and KEEP IT AT ARM’S DISTANCE, I need to make it real in my life, I need to live it and let it change me.

Today, my friends, let this Easter morning be different.  Let us be honest in the face of our fears.  Let us be honest in our hesitation and our habit of keeping change, real change at an arm’s distance away.  It’s time.  It’s time to stop being afraid, it’s time to change our posture, to open our hand and open our heart and, even though it’s scary, live EASTER.  LIVE resurrection.  Let God come into your life and make a difference because he lives!  Amen!

Making Ministry

As I’m clicking through all the things I’ve chosen to include in building this site, all the images and items that, to my mind have everything to do with ministry, I can see why someone might be asking, what do felt finger puppets have to do with faith?  (Hmmm… Jesus and the Disciples finger puppets– that’s a great idea!).  Here’s the best answer I can give you:

I believe that “making” connects us to God.  When we write, paint, craft, sew, cook, knit, crochet, make finger puppets, we are creating, we are using a part of ourselves that is given to us– GIFTED to us–by the Great Artist whose name is Love.  When we use the gift of our creativity, we connect with the God who made us, the Potter, the Baker, the Weaver, the Crafter of Mountains and Sculptor of Canyons and Painter of Spotted Owl Feathers.  How can we look at our world and NOT consider God an Artist?  And, by extension, it is the beauty of our world and the passions within us that inspire human beings to do the work we do– to make art in whatever way we feel moved.

Now, I’m not much of a sketch artist, and because I always wished I could draw, I never had much confidence in my skills as an artist.  Yet more and more as I came to know myself, I felt the need to “make”– to cook, to do crafts, to take photos, to write, and even to use chalk pastels and water colors.  As I grew into myself, I realized that some kind of “making” was essential to my mental, emotional, and– most importantly– my spiritual wellness and wholeness.  Sometimes I need the sound of metal knitting needles scraping softly to help me pray.  Sometimes I need to see my sons squeal with delight as they play Superheroes with finger puppets in order to feel joy and laughter in my soul.  Sometimes welcoming folks around a table of food I cooked reminds me of those who welcomed Jesus, and challenges me to expand my sense of hospitality to include more of God’s people.

As a pastor, over and over again I see God’s glorious gifted people stammer and hesitate when called to share their gifts.  Any kind of gift, not just artistic– “oh no, I could never pray out loud,” “I’m terrified of public speaking, I could never preach,” “I make a joyful noise, but choir’s not for me…”  I’m sure you’ve heard a few excuses or said a few yourself.  And when I try to add anything “crafty” or “artistic” in there, I get the same kind of hesitation.  To be such fabulous creations of the Divine, we human beings are so painfully insecure.  Yet we are so gifted.  So talented.  If only we had the courage to share what we’ve been given.

Imagine using art to change the world…

Imagine knitters and crocheters and fiber artists making hats, scarves and gloves for the homeless, donating blankets and hats to the oncology department of local hospitals, bringing lap quilts to the local retirement center…

Imagine quilters making blankets for the newly baptized, for confirmed youth, to commemorate loved ones lost to cancer or AIDS/HIV…

Imagine young people using painting, sculpture, multi-media collage– color, texture, form– to celebrate their beloved, created selves…

Imagine those who are grieving finding comfort, companionship, and consolation while creating something artistic and beautiful…

Imagine the broken finding healing as they co-create with God a vision of wholeness for themselves.

Jesus told us that the Kingdom of God was in our hands to build, a kingdom celebrating justice, equality and diversity. So often we feel helpless in making a difference, yet the Great Artist and Architect of our world “gifts” each beloved child with everything we need to tear down the walls of injustice that divide us and build a better world.

A Prayer for St. John’s UCC

This is one of my favorite prayers that I’ve written.  It came to me as I prepared for the Annual Meeting of the church in 2011.

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A Prayer for St. John’s UCC

God of stunning golden leaves and soft pink cherry blossoms,

God of children’s laughter and squeals of delight,

            We thank you for this place you share with us—

                                    this church that is St. John’s. 

Lord, you have filled this place with sweet songs, gurgling infants, and creaking bones—a wide and diverse gathering of your people: 

            and for this, we give you thanks. 

Holy One, you have taken a group of German immigrants building a house of faith and transformed them into a city on a hill—

            full of the joy of the gospel

            and welcoming all your children,

                        of all backgrounds, ages and races. 

            Again, for this, we give you thanks and praise. 

God who loves all the world and sent your Son to save it,

            We call on you this day and every day to strengthen your people of St. John’s to do the work of the Gospel: 

            to offer extravagant welcome to all you send through our doors;

            to share in heartfelt worship and praise;

            to serve as Jesus Christ taught us;

            and to open our hearts and minds to learning something new about you each day of our lives.

Each day, dear God, make clear for us the path which Jesus Christ showed us to follow. 

            Strengthen us by your unconditional love. 

            Fill us with your joy. 

            Guide us by your Holy Spirit. 

            Breathe in us the wisdom of being grateful for all you share with us.

We pray, this day and every day, you will shape our lives and our church into what you call us to be.

We offer this thanksgiving and praise, and we ask for this guidance in the name of the one whom we follow: Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

 

 

Grits and God-talk Finally Comes to Life!

Well, bless your heart, you’ve stumbled upon the internet home of Rev. Jennifer Sowell Glover.  Welcome!  This is the place where I ruminate a bit on God, share my thoughts on ministry, and celebrate my life and family.  And dream a dream or two, as well.

There cannot be God-talk without grits! These are spicy pepper cheese grits that accompanied VooDoo Salmon and succotash on Valentine’s Day 2014.

If you were in my actual house, like any good Southerner, I would apologize profusely for “the mess” (and unlike most Southerners, in my house there is an ACTUAL mess!), insist you sit in the most comfortable chair, and offer you something to drink or eat.  Since we are on the ‘net, I’ll just say a quick prayer of thanks that you can see my site without seeing my laundry pile!

Now, you may be asking yourself why on earth this blog is entitled “Grits and God-talk.”  It’s a good question.  It’s a title I’ve been tossing around in my head for about ten years now, and reflects where I’ve been and who I am.

Grits, as you might know, are a quintessential Southern food.  And while I’ve never been a huge fan of that “other” quintessential Southern food (sweet tea), I do love grits.  Good, fluffy, buttery grits.  One side of my Southern family loves them with sugar and butter, and that was my favorite for a long time.  The other side always preferred salt, pepper and butter– and when I met my husband and he suggested I add a little hot sauce, I was sold.  On him and the grits.

What you might not know about grits is that good ones can be hard to find.  Fluffy grits.  Often outside of the South, they are watery and overly gritty.  No good.  As much as I loved New York City, and as much as I love the area of Maryland where I currently live, both places could use some lessons in cooking grits!

Good grits are hard to find.  And so is good God-talk.  Honest God-talk.  God-talk that allows you to be yourself, have joy and great faith, wrestle with doubt and grief and hesitation.  God-talk that welcomes everyone and allows for differences.

And that is what I hope this blog will be.  A warm, welcome, and satisfying experience, like a bowl of grits made your favorite way.  A place where I can be myself, and you can be yourself.  And we can all celebrate that we are God’s beloved children, and that our differences are the thing that makes God so awesome– not the things to tear us apart!