Why I’m fundraising my salary

I’ve received a lot of questions and concerns about why my church would create a staff position they cannot pay for. I’m assuming that means far more people share the question. Here is a bit more of the story:

I first met St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship when my friend Leslie gave my name to Pastor Samuel to come speak to a Sunday School class about the Baptist denomination. As I prepared, I looked at SLMF’s website and poked around into their beliefs and practices. What I discovered was a theology that matched my own. I said to Allyn, “Oh no, I might be a Mennonite.”

After an incredibly hurtful experience at another church, I began to attend St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship when I was not supply preaching or doing interim work elsewhere. Soon after, I approached Samuel about doing my final seminary internship with the church.

During that summer internship, I asked a lot of questions about what it would mean for me to be a Mennonite, about how all the processes worked, about the image of the wider denomination. By the end of the summer, I had fallen in love with SLMF and used it as the model when answering questions about my “dream congregation.”

I made the denominational leap to become a Mennonite and have continued to be a part of SLMF for the last two years post-internship, often dreaming about what the next steps would be.

My husband, Allyn, and I have felt called to be in St. Louis, which certainly limits ministry options . . . particularly when you have joined a denomination with all of two churches in the entire metro area (the other is entirely African-American). But still we felt (and continue to feel) that this was the place where God wanted (wants) us.

For awhile, Allyn and I wondered if I was supposed to start a church. About a year ago I had a conversation with Samuel, which led to occasional meetings of our families and a conversation with our conference minister about what all that might mean. As we talked about dreams, it seemed that what was emerging was not a separate congregation, but a new ministry within St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship.

All the while, my role at SLMF was changing. When Sam and Rachel’s son was born, I filled in for several weeks of paternity leave. I was asked to take two of our teenagers to camp. Various church members would come to me for pastoral care. A few teasingly referred to as “Pastor Jennifer.”

We began conversations about what this next phase of ministry might look like. I knew from the very beginning that there was not yet any available funding. We talked about a volunteer role as associate pastor . . . and it felt incredibly awkward. The leadership team didn’t feel right assigning me tasks because they didn’t want to presume too much. And I didn’t want to simply dictate what I would be doing, because that didn’t feel right for the structure of the church.

I began thinking about the new church model. The common model for the beginnings of a new church is to ask people for support. What we were proposing at SLMF was similar—a new ministry start. So I talked to the leadership team about this “missionary model” of funding (so named because almost all missionaries in almost all denominations are currently required to raise their own support). It opened up a new level of freedom. We were able to work together to design a job description that fit the needs of the church and my gifts and desires for ministry.

The congregation was afraid at first. No one wanted to do something that was unfair to me. Let me be clear: it has never felt unfair to me. In this position I will get to work beside some of the most loving and generous people I have ever met. And that isn’t unfair—it is an incredible gift.

In addition to pastoral care and some Christian education, I will be doing new work in our surrounding neighborhood, a place where something like 60 percent of the residents are first generation immigrants—most refugees fleeing from violence in their home countries. Our neighborhood has a lot of hurt and a lot of poverty. It will be my job to get to know the neighborhood and find ways that our congregation can partner with residents of our corner of St. Louis.

This is ministry that I am passionate about in a place that I am passionate about. My entire seminary program was based on being forward-focused, on realizing that the church landscape is changing. One of the things drilled into us was that the funding of church positions is changing. And so St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship agreed to take this step of faith with me. It is, I believe, a Holy experiment. We have agreed to listen to this whisper of the Spirit and see where it takes us over the next two years. I hope you will be willing to partner with us and see where the Holy Experiment leads you.

I do have an online fundraising site here. I’m also looking for those who wish to give monthly gifts (see this post for more information on how to do that).

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Good news!

I have two bits of exciting news. First:

announcement3small

We’re having a baby! I can’t make out a thing in this ultrasound image, but the doc managed to see a dancing 10-week-old baby. Right above the little x was the heartbeat. We have never made it this far in a pregnancy. While we thought we got to 11 weeks with our first, she only measured at 9 weeks during our first ultrasound. Doc was thrilled and pronounced baby and me beyond the first trimester riskiness. Seems all the vitamins and shots may be working! If all continues to go well, Baby HD should make an appearance sometime around February 25.

In other news, I have two weeks to raise the first half of my salary. Last I heard, I’m several thousand dollars away. Today I started an indiegogo campaign that links directly to the church (you’ll notice it is listed as a verified nonprofit). All gifts to the campaign are tax-deductible. If you have a dollar or two that you are able to share, my family and my church would be incredibly appreciative. Please visit (and share!) here.

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New beginning

communion

Serving communion at the SLMF church retreat in 2012.

On the day of my Starbucks seminary graduation, Dr. Molly Marshall advised me not to settle for a bad ministry fit, but to create an opportunity that utilized my gifts. For the past several years I’ve been talking with Samuel Voth Schrag, pastor of St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship, about what that might look like and what options were available in Mennonite Church USA. Various ideas came about—starting a church, launching new ministries, etc.—but it became clear that my ministry dreams fit well with the desires of SLMF.

At the last members meeting, the congregation invited me to be their Associate Pastor. The position will involve pastoral care, providing support for the Christian Education team, and expanding ministry to our surrounding community in the South Grand/Chippewa neighborhood—an area that is home to a large number of refugees.

Since this is a new position and new ministry, funds are not readily available. For the first two-year term, I will be raising my own support. I invite you to partner with me in a number of ways.

I invite you to pray for me and the congregation of St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship as we begin this new ministry journey together.

I invite you to partner with me financially—either through a one-time gift or a monthly pledge. I will be working to raise $23,326/yr (The MCUSA recommendation for a halftime associate position in St. Louis). Gifts can be made using the response slip below.

I am incredibly excited about this new ministry and would love to talk with you about it!


Enclosed is my gift of: ____ $20 ____ $50 ____ $100 ____ (other: $___).MCUSA_Symbol_Blk

This gift is a: ___ One-time donation ___Monthly pledge.

Please make checks out to St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship and write “Jennifer Harris Dault” on the memo line. All donations are tax deductible.

Mail to: St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship; 3752 Giles Ave., St. Louis, MO 63116

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Litany of loss

I’ve heard of a few friends recently experiencing loss. Two weeks ago I led a workshop on miscarriage/pregnancy loss at the All You Need is Love Women’s Theology Conference. Here is the service I designed for the second half of our time together:

Gathering/Welcome
photo (5)We gather here this afternoon to name the pain and grief of pregnancy loss and infertility and to honor the children who are missing from our family photos.  This sort of loss is not often talked about on Sunday mornings. Very few churches and denominations have created liturgies to mark this sort of loss. Instead our pain is often relegated to the silence. It can be hard to know where to find God in the hurt. So today we gather, acknowledging that the Sacred is not separate from our experiences, not removed from our loss, but that God meets us even here. Will you join me in the call to worship?

Call to Worship
One: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.
All: God, like Rachel we ache for our missing children. Condolences feel empty in the enormity of our loss.
One: Hannah was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly.
All: God, you heard the cries of Hannah as she grieved her infertility. Remember us, too, as we long for the children we have hoped for and imagined.
One: For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
All: God, you lovingly created us. And while we were dreaming of our babies, you were dreaming with us as your love formed them. Hold us as we grieve. 

Song: Healer of Our Every Ill (Marty Haugen)

Scripture: Lamentations 3:12-24

Reflection
I have never been a person in exile. I’ve never had to flee my homeland or be subject to foreign occupation. But I do know what it is to lament. I know what it is to both literally and emotionally have death inside me. I know what it feels like to have the weight of the world strike me like an arrow. And I know many of you know those feelings, too. We have shared stories this morning—shared places of heartache and moments of hope.

The most persistent thing I felt after my miscarriages was broken. In pregnancy I had started to look at my body differently—it was amazing. This body was shifting and moving and reconfiguring to grow a person. While I hated the nausea, the reality of the amazing things my body was doing was incredible. And then I went to my midwife for my second prenatal appointment, where she offered me an ultrasound and I learned that the incredible workings of my body were not enough. My daughter had no heartbeat. I felt like I had failed in one of the key areas of motherhood—I failed to keep my daughter alive. In a very real way, my own body had been working against my desires. How does one person even begin to process that sort of loss? The only word I could hold and wrap myself around was “broken.”

And that is exactly where I think our lamenter is. When you know you are the people of God and tell stories about how God set you free and led you to the promised land, what does it mean when others run you out of that land? Everything they had trusted failed. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, we see a people trying to scratch out their identities. Who are we now that this has happened? Who are we if God has turned God’s back? Who are we in occupation? Who are we now that everything is broken?

The lamenter clearly blames God. He suggests this is all the result of God’s wrath. And yet, his own words contradict this notion. “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” In the midst of complete despair, it is the steadfast love of God that gives hope.

And this phrase “steadfast love” is significant. It is our closest English rendition of the Hebrew word “hesed.” But our translation almost makes it sound too passive. You can love someone steadfastly from afar. Hesed, on the other hand is active. One definition states “hesed is the consistent, ever-faithful, relentless, constantly-pursuing, lavish, extravagant, unrestrained, furious love” of God. It is a love that chases us when we are most unworthy. It is the reason that the Psalmist writes of not being able to flee from God in Psalm 139—because this love always pursues us, always anticipates us . . . it goes with us even to the pit.

In her theological reflections on miscarriage, Serene Jones suggests that when Jesus was killed, his death was taken into the Trinity in the same way a miscarrying woman carries death inside her. I love this image. The idea that even when no one else knows our pain, God has been there. God, the Creator and Giver of life, has felt death within God’s womb. God’s love goes to the pit with us.

God knows what it is to be broken. In our communion liturgy we speak the words—“This is Christ’s body, broken for you.” God understands the groaning. And when you have felt the groan come out of the depths of yourself, you can’t bear the thought that anyone else must experience it. A God who has groaned is a God who will stop at nothing to restore the world, to fix the brokenness. I believe that is the message of the Scriptures.

Those words also give us the freedom to grieve now—to groan and ache and cry. After all, if we are to join God in the plan to restore the world, we must recognize the brokenness. We must feel the pain. We must join in the groans of a world that is not just, that has enormous suffering. And let’s be honest, the loss of a child is enormous.

We may be broken. But God is lovingly redeeming us, AND is lovingly redeeming our missing children. We are broken now, but we can have hope that one day we will be made whole.

We will be sharing communion today as a sacrament. As Mennonites we often shy away from talking about sacraments. Instead we talk of ordinances. But there are times when I think we need tangible reminders of the way that God is with us—and today I hope this celebration of Table is one of them. (Words of Instruction/Institution)

Communion

Song: O Love That Will Not Let Me Go (George Matheson/Albert Peace)

Prayer station
Throughout Scripture, people mark encounters with God by building altars. As a tangible reminder that God is surrounding us and our children, I invite you to write each of your children’s names on two stones. Place one in the vase to build our altar together. Take the other with you.

Song/Benediction: My Shepherd Will Supply My Need (Isaac Watts)

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Not so silent night

Preached 12/29 at St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship
Matthew 2:13-23

Merry Christmas! It is good to gather together in worship with all of you this Christmas morning. Perhaps it seems odd to speak of Christmas, as our Scripture passage today is in sharp contrast to the celebrations of the past week. On this fifth day of Christmas, we continue to sing of a Silent Night and the stillness in Bethlehem. As we wish for peace on Earth and goodwill to all, we imagine Joseph and Mary and Jesus settling in. New parents, far from home, sleep-deprived, and doing everything within their power to care for this incredibly tiny new person entrusted to their care.

DSC_0345But our text today reminds us that all was not silent. And while Mary might have had a moment to sigh and breathe in the scent of her newborn as she gathered him to her chest . . . that moment did not last long. After all, Mary and Joseph journeyed to Bethlehem because the Roman Emperor wished to register everyone in order to tax them.

The roads are filled with travelers, the guest rooms are packed . . . but no one wants to be there. For many this is unpaid time off combined with costly travel . . . all for the purpose of another tax padding the coffers of a foreign empire.

There is a reason that the people have been waiting and praying for a Messiah to free them from Roman occupation. The New Testament is filled with quiet stories of centurions and legions—indications that the Roman military presence is commonplace, that violent acts of power are ways of life. The hope of a Messiah was couched in what seemed a hopeless situation.

Finally Jesus—God enfleshed—is born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger . . .  While Matthew gives us no angels or shepherds, we find a group of astrologers who follow a star and read the signs that a King has been born. At some point during Jesus’s early years these strangers arrive, bearing expensive gifts. Of course, their very journey has stirred political trouble.

And as soon as the astrologers leave, the nightmare begins. Joseph has a dream, and the family runs. Some, likely in an effort to make this passage palatable, talk about this passage as a story of Herod’s fear and the family’s faith. I don’t think there is any level of faith that allows you to wake up from a dream about brutalized babies, pack up your belongings and two-year-old son for a three hundred mile walk and not experience sheer terror. The holy family has become political refugees, leaving everything they know in order to survive. They are making a difficult journey into an unfamiliar place with different customs and different language. They run picturing the sword at every turn.

Herod is certainly acting out of fear—he has a long history of brutal actions used to gain and defend his crown. But while Jesus is protected from slaughter, children back in Bethlehem are not. In Bethlehem, babies are ripped from their mothers and murdered. New Testament scholar Alan Culpepper estimates that somewhere around twenty children were killed that day.

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
She refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

The Christmas story contains a pain so intense that even those beyond the grave cannot be comforted, because there is simply nothing—nothing—that makes this okay. It is a story of absolute hell thriving on earth. And this is a story that we cannot ignore—that we cannot skip over—because the hope of God is always, always mixed up with the desperate cries of a hurting people.

Rachel is still weeping today. She weeps in Nairobi, where poor parents dress their children as beautifully as they can, and place them in the street, hoping that someone with more resources will want them and take them in.

She weeps across the world as children are taken into slavery, stripped of their innocence, and used in the most vile ways imaginable.

She weeps as families are promised an education and dowry for their girls by factory owners who have no intention of keeping their promises, but merely want cheap labor for clothing sold to us here.

She weeps in Sudan and Gaza and Iraq and Jerusalem, in Myanmar, Thailand, and Guatemala. She weeps in St. Louis as a man named Richard sleeps outside in an alley on Christmas Eve.

She weeps as laws make it harder for the most vulnerable families to meet their basic needs. As guns and bombs and hate tear families and communities apart.

She weeps and cannot be consoled—and neither should we. Our voices should be joining with those experiencing pain and injustice in the world. We are surrounded by darkness—but today we lit the Christ candle, a symbol of God’s presence with us in full faith that the darkness did not and cannot overcome the light. We continue to speak the hope of the Gospel—that God broke into a hurting world and continues to break into the world of our hurt; that Christ came to announce freedom to the captive, release to the prisoner, sight to the blind, life to the lifeless.

A few weeks ago, in anticipation of this day, we shared this light with one another. In doing so, we proclaimed our role—to carry Christ’s light and illuminate the darkness, to join with God in the work of bringing the Kingdom of God here and now.

On this Christmas morning, we are invited to join with the pains of the world, to listen to the stories of anguish, to add our weeping.

At the same time, we are invited to sing—and I’ll admit that I wrestle with this tension. Because it IS tension, and who really wants that at any time of year, much less Christmas? But this is a passage without easy answers, without anything that lets us sigh too deeply with relief.

I believe we are called to sing, not in ignorance of a hurting world, but because the light of God, the love of God, is bursting forth. God wasn’t just in Egypt, but God was also in Bethlehem, holding mother and father and baby—and even soldier—in all of their brokenness. God is here today, entering into our world and our lives in new ways. God with us . . .  God. Is. With. Us.

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Elsewhere on the web

I haven’t been posting much here, but I have been actively writing and reading.

This week I had a guest post at The Femonite, one of my absolute favorite blogs. Check it out and bookmark the site—you’ll want to follow Hannah!

Yesterday, I was also the writer for the Baby Jesus Blog: An Advent Study. If you haven’t been following along with this guide, you’ll want to read all of the entries. I’m incredibly honored to be part of this project.

And for all of you who have been waiting to buy The Modern Magnificat until your purchase helped support women in Piedras Negras, Mexico—wait no more! I have partnered with Points on the Wheel (run by my dear friend Mark Buhlig) to bring you The Modern Magnificat for a $20 donation to help a group of women in Piedras Negras start a sewing business. Your gift will help these women get the commercial sewing equipment they need—and you get a free book! Check it out here. The book makes a great gift for pastors, seminarians, strangers on the street . . .

Looking for other book ideas for gifts? Here are a few remarkable books that I edited this year:

Going Back to New Orleans by Bert Montgomery
Seeking the Face of God by J. Daniel Day
Queer Lessons for Churches on the Straight and Narrow by Cody Sanders
Anabel Unraveled by Amanda Romine Lynch
Nightmarriage by Chad Thomas Johnston

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A year later: Jenny Call

modmagYesterday (Nov. 13) marked the one-year anniversary of the publication of The Modern Magnificat. In honor of that, I asked all of the women who wrote for the book to update me on their lives. Quite a few have had major changes in the last year. I’ll be posting their stories (and sharing my own) over the coming days. Please share your own experiences with The Modern Magnificat in the comments.

 

To begin, an update from Jenny Call:

Jenny Portrait_CroppedSince our journey together, I had the opportunity to contribute to another book, A Divine Duet: Motherhood and Ministry (edited by Alicia Porterfield). I contribute to a blog (www.ministryandmotherhood.com) that came out of the book project, as well as my own personal blog (www.hopecalls.blogspot.com). I’m currently in the application process for a D.Min program in Educational Leadership at Virginia Theological Seminary that would begin in the summer. I hope to continue to develop my skills as I am in the third year of my calling as university chaplain at Hollins University, a small women’s liberal arts college in Roanoke, Virginia. Writing continues to be a calling for me and a spiritual discipline to help me reflect upon and process the challenges of ministry and personal life. A highlight of my writing experience came when Sarah Bessey recently quoted from my blog post (http://hopecalls.blogspot.com/2013/11/when-baptist-women-go-wild.html)  on her blog (http://sarahbessey.com/synchroblog-favourites/). Unfortunately, I’ve been too paralyzed by my own expectations to write since.  :)

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