Friday, February 12, 2010

The Unexpected Cost of Ministry

I get parking tickets. Oy, I get parking tickets, especially, but not only in the City of Somerville. Mayor Curtatone requests the clergy of Somerville come to his office once a year, just to check in about things. I went about two years ago, and met the guy. I liked him very much.

When the mayor asked about the needs and concerns of our people, we said first, "Parking."

When I started working at the church in Somerville, I got parking tickets every week, sometimes several. I parked too close to an intersection. I parked longer than two hours on College Ave. I stayed too long at a meter because the meter is a one hour meter instead of two.

In Somerville, you can buy an annual temporary permit to hang on your rear view mirror. The City of Somerville grants the permit recognizing the necessity of parking near one's own house of worship. Clergy, lay people, both can get this temporary permit. My green permit reads, in black sharpie ink, "Church, 89 College Ave."

I'm entirely grateful for this permit, but for the first year I had this permit, the Meter Maid or Man failed to notice the permit hanging from my mirror - especially when there was also snow on the windshield, or rain, or when it was dark. So even though I figured out how to place my car in the right place, I still got parking tickets. I thought my head would blow off. I sent the tickets in with a note, and did it again, and again. I called, and called again, asking for my permit to be noticed.

I also got tickets when I forgot to place my "Church" permit on my rear view mirror, or when the permit fell off the mirror into the dark abyss of the space between the car seats where, if the meter man or maid wanted to look, it could not been seen. I learned to reinforce the paper hook of the permit with packing tape.

These days, I haven't got a ticket in a long time in that exact spot, on Francesca Ave. right behind the curb cut and the space reserved for those who hold a handicapped parking permit. I learned and I hardly ever forget to put the permit on my dashboard. The Meter Man or Maid kindly sees my permit and gives me a pass, a passover. This feels like mercy to me, especially when I really do forget to place my permit. Thank you Meter Man or Maid.

Here's the last thing I'll say about this parking permit problem. Since my permit says "Church, 89 College Ave." but my parishioners live and work all over Somerville, I get parking tickets on avenues Franklin and Highland, or spend my time worrying that I will.

I must say, parking enforcement in Somerville is thorough and consistent. S/he watching over Somerville slumbers not nor sleeps. Psalm 121:4 (a paraphrase)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Open Office Hours

Following the example of the lead pastor of my congregation, I began holding open office hours at a local restaurant in Davis Sq., the Blue Shirt Cafe, every Thursday from 5:15-7. Oh, it is a scene!

I have showed up the few weeks in my clerical collar, sat down and waited for folks from my congregation to arrive. They do. We sit at one big table, and folks come and go. It's a little clumsy, but mostly, it's companionable. Folks talk to each other, folks talk to me. I get to see how people are. If they need one on one time, I follow up and make appointments.

This is what I love about my open office hours. I get to see the people I serve in public and watch them, participate with them in a kind of public respect and love for each other.

My parishioners are funny, bright, full of longing, full of questions. They have questions about practice and belief, opinions about theology.

One of my parishioners is blind, and I get to see sighted people flirt shamelessly with his dog.

Several of my parishioners love to take a idea and hold it up to the metaphorical light to see what authentic colors may shine through. Tonight it was panantheism and pantheism. We got to have a conversation about vocation. Sometimes, folks come to be beheld in their need or grief or joy.

All of this spiritual activity, I love. God gave me a heart for love. Because I am their minister, I get the honor of loving these people, seeing them, being with them.I might be the richest woman I know. For this, I was made.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Hyatt 100, Praying With Our Feet

I went to the picket line on Tuesday. It’s an activity I really enjoy, walking the picket line. It’s repetitious like drumming, round and round. I see the same faces over and over. Little bit by little bit, I start to see people as individuals, pick up a little of people’s personality. Since we’re chanting various things, “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” we don’t have to make conversation, so we start to make silence acknowledgements of each other. I was wearing my collar, and the priest wearing his collar, Catholic I guessed by demeanor and carriage, gave me a big thumbs up, again and again as we passed each other. What was he making of me, I wondered. Was he wondering what I was making of him?

Molly Baskette, our lead pastor came along in a bit. She grabbed a plastic laundry detergent jug, empty of detergent, but full enough of rocks to be a great shaker. She joined the picket conga line. By that time I was helping out with the drumming. Molly walked around and around me and the other drummer and we grinned at each other. So fun.

There were other folks on the picket line, folks I didn’t know, but types of characters. There was the white elderly educated straight couple – earnest, respectful, not calling attention away from the workers, not calling attention to themselves, except for their vibrational intensity for justice. You just know they were from the people’s republic of Cambridge. There was the Local 26 president, Janice Loux, a working class woman in her union jacket, who when she spoke, you could see other campaigns for justice in her eyes. She is a practiced speaker and knows how to connect up different movements, how to persuade folks who have different circumstances that this fight is in a way everyone’s fight. Marjorie Decker, who will run for State Senate since Anthony Galluccio was taken away in handcuffs, she came. And she was the most clear as she spoke. She said that Hyatt forgot that the workers were real people, people with dreams of financial security. She said she knew that at first, when the workers were fired, the workers were embarrassed, thought that despite their hard work or sometimes mediocre work, they’d done something to deserve being fired. But Marjorie Decker said to the fired workers, “Thank you for standing. Thank you for fighting back. If Hyatt can fire workers here in this blue labor state, they can do it all over the country. “Marjorie said, “I know that it feels like you’re in trouble because you are,” and the workers nodded. “But thank you, thank you. I will fight for you.”

A rabbi flew to Hyatt headquarters in Chicago. She took a petition signed by 200 rabbis. A priest from the archdiocese called all over the country to ask folks to boycott. Some white guys from the carpenter’s union came over during their lunch break to walk around and round – big white working class guys walking for Latina women, Dominican and Trinidadian housekeepers.

When describing who might enter the kingdom of God, Jesus who inherited the moral imperative of caring for the immigrant, for the widow and the orphan explained that it was this practice that would allow entry in to the kingdom of heaven. Jesus said when I was hungry, you fed me, when I was thirsty you gave me something to drink. You clothed me, visited me in jail. Folks asked when did we do this, when did we see you hungry, thirsty, naked? Jesus said, when you fed these, you fed me. OK.

Maybe the kingdom of heaven, the phrase is a metaphor for what yesterday seemed like to me. And that is this: even though those workers are in trouble and there is no retirement for them, and even though they have gone through their little savings accounts, a woman from Tobago, and Molly Baskette, and an old white couple from Cambridge, and Latino from Centro Presente, and Anthony Zuba, a fair drummer and great organizer, and a bunch of other people and I got to do the dance of justice together, seeing each other, imagining each other’s lives, remembering the times when folks came to rescue us, hoping that if ever we needed food, rescue, help pulling a building off of our beloved’s body, someone would come for us. God’s hands in this world are ours.