Our New Curate

The Rev. Anne Emry started her ministry as curate at St. John’s, Hingham, this past Sunday. August in the Episcopal Church is as good a time to begin a new ministry as any. If not low-key it’s certainly lower key. There aren’t as many people around, the full choir isn’t in session, the services are shorter. A perfect time to work out any liturgical bugs in preparation for the fall and the start of the oft over-hyped “Program Year.”

Mother Anne, as she’s known in these parts, preached her first sermon — and did a very fine job I might add; served as deacon of the mass (she’ll be priested in January); and survived, I mean attended, her first coffee hour among us. As great as it is to begin a new ministry, it’s always a bit of a relief to have the first Sunday over with. There will, of course, be hiccups along the way but there will never again be another first Sunday.

As people return from vacations, Anne will continue to meet people for the first time. Every week for the next two months I’d imagine. But in time the faces that now blend together will start to look familiar and names will even be attached to them. A first call as an ordained person is exciting, overwhelming, and fun. After years of discerning and studying, you’re finally doing what you have been called to do! And that is a great gift to both the individual and to those among whom you serve.

I admit to reliving some of my first days as a curate at Old St. Paul’s in downtown Baltimore. I had a terrific rector who was and is both a friend and mentor. We did a lot of great ministry together at OSP and I look forward to having a similar experience with Anne.

And, okay I’ll admit it, I mostly wrote this post so I could share some pictures of Mother Anne’s first Sunday at St. John’s. Thanks to our organist, Dr. Fred Guzasky, for taking them unbeknownst to either one of us. Very sneaky indeed. Enjoy.

On Boundary Violations

moatThere’s a new article out from a researcher at Penn State that examines the challenges of balancing home and work life. The guinea pigs? 60 Episcopal priests — no I wasn’t one of them. I was too busy trying to balance my home and work life to participate. They chose Episcopal priests because they wanted folks “who face particularly extreme challenges in balancing work and home demands.”

I smell a reality TV show in the offing. “Clergy Encounters of the Extreme Kind” would have spouses yelling at their clergy husbands/wives as they attempt to conduct pre-marital counseling (“I can’t believe you’re stressing communication to these two. Why don’t you practice what you preach for once in your life?!”). Haggling over personal finances in the sacristy just before the 10:00 am liturgy (“Okay ‘God Guy’, why couldn’t you have been ‘called’ to be an investment banker?”). A vestry meeting being conducted at the dinner table during a family meal (“Would you please pass the salt and do something about the out-of-control flower budget?”).

In reality it is a tricky balance. Clergy have taken two vows: one to our spouses and one to our God. And at times there’s tension between the two demands — the demands of family life and the demands of parish life. The priest who performed our wedding at the Church of the Redeemer in Baltimore (I was in the ordination process at the time) used to always tell me that the vow represented by that ring on my left hand always came first. This advice has come in handy on more than one occasion. But it’s always a work in progress — BlackBerry’s and laptops don’t help matters.

Much of the research revolves around setting appropriate boundaries — between your personal and professional lives. Of course some of the “solutions” are pretty funny. One priest swears by having his wife answer his cell phone to screen calls on his day off. Solange DeSantis — the friend and editor extraordinaire who forwarded me this article — already has her take on this one: “I can hear it now – ‘Bryna, honey, here’s my cell phone, would you handle all my calls today? Be sure to take messages and tell them to please respect my boundaries.’ Fill in the ^%$&^*&^&* answer from Bryna.” I couldn’t have said it better!

Then there’s the priest (I’m not making this up) who is quoted as having “had a six-foot stockade fence built between the church and the rectory to physically separate her work and her home.” You can’t see me! You can’t see me!

Gotta go now — I’m off to dig a moat.