Author Archives: ladyfr

About ladyfr

An ordained Episcopal priest for 33 years, I am now retired from all active ministry. I volunteer for Hospice and work on marketing my memoir, "Lady Father." I play cards a lot and listen to audiobooks while playing Mahjong on my computer/phone. Retirement is delightful! I have one son, Scott, who is married to Stacey, and 2 college-aged grandchildren, Jared and Emily. They are all the center of my life and I spend as much time with them as all of the above activities will allow. I have written a memoir, "Lady Father, about my experiences in the ordination process of the church and the places I served. It was a mixed bag of great fulfillment and joy as well as frustration and pain. It's now available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, and IndieBound. I have also written a Prequel to "Lady Father" called "God is in the Journey." This eBook traces my early life, my family, our relationship to St. Paul's Episcopal Church, and their effect on my life. It is available on Amazon as a Kindle book. As a retired priest, I help out at the local Episcopal church where I am now a member and enjoying being fed after so many years of doing the feeding, but I am looking forward to being able to celebrating the Eucharist again. I am doing some live presentations/book signings where I can but mostly marketing "Lady Father" in the virtual mode from my recliner. Yes, retirement is good.

THEOLOGY

BEING A WOMAN OF GOD

{This was presented to the Daughters of the King Chapter at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Delmar, New York on October 7, 2019.}

A little girl reported at home what she had learned at Sunday School concerning the creation of Adam and Eve: “The teacher told us how God made the first man and the first woman. He made the man first. But the man was very lonely with nobody to talk to him. So, God put the man to sleep. And while the man was asleep, God took out his brains, and made a woman of them.” Always start with a joke, I was taught.

Let me begin by telling you a little bit about myself. I was born in Petersburg, Virginia way long time ago and after high school I attended the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg. I married while still in school and when I graduated, we moved to Atlanta where, because I had majored in Philosophy for lack of anything better, I just got a “pay-the-bills” job. We then moved to the Gulf Coast of Mississippi where I was over-qualified for everything so I continued working just to make ends meet. Our next move was to Jackson, Mississippi where my newest job was secretary of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Cathedral. It didn’t take long for me to let the organist know how much I loved to sing and soon he offered to pay my babysitter if I would come and sing in the choir.

StAndrews-Jackson_December_2018_31_St._Andrews_Episcopal_Cathedral
St. Andrew’s Cathedral

I was ecstatic and spent the next 3 years getting reacquainted with my beloved Episcopal Church. Being a cradle Episcopalian, I had grown up going to church every Sunday, but college and a non-Episcopalian husband had interrupted my faithful attendance record. After a quick move back to Atlanta, our marriage ended amicably and Scott, my son, and I moved back to Petersburg where I tried to pick up at the same church with the same kids I had known all my life. But suddenly I was like a stranger. Not only was I “County Girl” who attended county schools, now I was divorced. They rebuffed all my efforts to renew old friendships so I just stopped going but, God had gotten into my soul and had other plans for me; therefore, I needed to find a place to worship.

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church

So, we went to the new church across the river which had been a mission from my home church so I knew some of the founders of St. Michael’s. On a hot Sunday in June, Scott and I found our new church home. I was greeted with open arms by the choir members from my old church and the next week I was a member of the choir. It didn’t take long for the Rector to get me involved in the youth program and within a few months I was the leader of the youth group which was very active in the Diocesan Youth Program and before I knew it, I was hooked. I loved the retreats with their lively music, casual but moving communion services, and the welcoming community of teenagers and their sponsors, all led by a quietly dynamic and loving Director of Youth Programs for the Diocese. It was only 4 years later that I felt called by God to go to seminary so I could teach young people about God. I hadn’t learned anything in all my years in church and I felt totally inadequate to the job I felt God pulling me to do for him.

Today I stand before you an ordained priest of 33 years, a graduate of one of the top seminaries in the church, a pretty good preacher if I do say so myself, and a Bible scholar. I went through years of jumping through hoops, preparing for a vocation that both terrified and excited me, and living out my dream that started when I was just 5 years old, sitting in the pew with my grandmother and wishing I was a boy so I could carry the cross and grow up to be a man so I could do what the minister was doing and wear one of those beautiful and colorful scarves. Let me ask you a question – how many of you have ever thought of yourself as a Child of God?  During all those years growing up and living as an Episcopalian and then growing into a dedicated priest in God’s church, I never thought of myself as a Child of God. Somehow, I never quite heard that basic description of all of us – a Child of God. Somewhere deep inside I must have known that we were all children of God, created and endowed with the nature of God. But I never remember hearing the term Child of God.

Now, I’m all grown up and I have realized that I’ve never heard the phrase nor have I ever thought of myself as a Woman of God. Now listen to the definition I found of a Woman of God – a Woman of God is first and foremost a daughter of God and is also a woman who seeks to know the Word of God, to commune with God in prayer, to obey God’s command to love each other, and to present herself in the world as a work in progress, a masterpiece of God’s, saved by His grace through faith, and becoming more like Jesus as she seeks to know Him and obey Him and tell the world about Him. That’s quite a list so let’s look at them more closely.

Now when I look back on my journey through the church, I realize that I am indeed a daughter of God – I’m his Child and since I’m female, that makes me his daughter. I like that. But more importantly, I am struck by how my life has all been about making me into a Woman of God. Once I was introduced to God’s word in Scripture in youth group retreats, I became voracious. I couldn’t get enough of God’s word as we delved into life and how the Bible speaks to us of how we are to live as Christians. When I got to seminary, I was almost overwhelmed by how much I didn’t know and so how much there was to learn. While some students who were encouraged to attend an Old Testament tutorial were insulted, I couldn’t wait to jump into that. I knew my limitations and I knew how scripturally-illiterate I was so I took every opportunity I could to learn how to learn all over again in such a way that I could make sense out of God’s word. It seemed hopeless, but finally I got the hang of it and at the end of the semester, I found myself with a B in Old Testament. I was ecstatic – I felt like I knew the basic foundation of our Christian faith and was more than ready to jump into the New Testament. I was just beginning to know the Word of God.

I grew up in the 50’s in a traditional church where people who prayed out loud, except if they had a prayer book in front of them, were considered to be suspicious. People who said “Jesus” in normal conversation were also suspect and people who talked about how much they prayed and what they prayed about were like someone from outer space. We said the grace at meals, mostly dinner, but I never remember saying prayers before bed, I never remember my parents ever praying and certainly ever talking about it. So, I had no idea what a prayer life was. I thought we prayed with our prayer book and that was all that was necessary. It wasn’t until Spiritual Theology class that I heard about such things as spiritual meditation, spending time with God, and actually telling God what you’ve done, what you’re thinking, what you need, and how you feel. I had never done any of those things and had no idea how to go about it. I had severed my ACL in high school so couldn’t even kneel – how could an Episcopalian pray without kneeling for heaven’s sake! So, I was out of my element, to say the least. But, as before, I persevered and listened and learned and slowly began to develop some idea of what a prayer life is. Very, very slowly I learned that I wasn’t going to sound like an idiot if I prayed out loud to God, even if I could ever get up the nerve to pray out loud in front of others. I have to tell you, that as hard as I’ve worked on this, and as old as I am, I still cringe a little inside when I’m asked to pray out loud. I can do grace because my father always said the same one and I learned it so well, I can still spout it off at the drop of a hat. Bless this food to our use and us to your faithful service. Amen. But to make up one on the fly – it was a long time before I could even attempt it. All of this is to say that this part of being a Woman of God doesn’t come naturally to all of us, especially Episcopalians. Unless you’re taught at home at an early age, praying is something we develop as we grow up. We go from “Please bless Mommy and Daddy…” to “Now I lay me down to sleep…” to “God, I don’t know how to do this, but…” to my favorite prayer, “Help!” and everything in between. Finally, we find our way to more comfortable and intimate ways of communing with God and then we know a little bit more about being a Woman of God.

Loving each other was always problematic for me because, like most kids, love meant stuff we only heard about, were scared of, and didn’t even want to think about, much less do. I didn’t even know what love meant. I never thought about loving my family – they were just there and I knew I didn’t want to ever be without them around me. There was love in all that but I couldn’t articulate it. As I grew up and became aware of boys and then grew up some more and actually decided I loved someone enough to marry him, I began to get an inkling about what love was but it was certainly not something I wanted to think about with friends, or classmates, or anybody else I knew, much less with neighbors, or the homeless, or my enemies. Love was just for men and women to live together for the rest of their lives and I didn’t have a clue how to love all those other people, some of whom I didn’t even like or worse. I must say I didn’t think about it much but when you’re studying the New Testament, you can’t help but think about love. Well, when I finally got it was when we learned that there are 7 Greek words for love as it is translated in our Bible. There is eros – man/woman love; there is philia – deep friendship love – some call it family love; to name a few, and then there is agapé. Agapé is the love that is mostly talked about in the New Testament and it means “doing love” or, as some call it “Christian love.” Agapé means giving without counting the cost, caring without judging, and loving unconditionally. Agapé is what Jesus meant when he said, “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” As Christians, it’s what we are called to do in everyday life – give, care, and love. And, more importantly, it’s what people see when they look at a Woman of God.

If you have ever given your last dollar to the homeless man outside of Wal-Mart, you have practiced agapé. If you have ever visited an inmate in prison and listened to his story with a caring heart instead of a judgmental mind, you have practiced agapé. If you have ever stood beside a friend who has done wrong, speaking reassurance that “you may have done a bad thing but that doesn’t make you a bad person,” then you have practiced agapé. Every time you bring food for the food pantry or school supplies, every time you participate in the St. Francis dinners, every time you knit a lap robe for the sick, every time you visit the sick or dying in the hospital, you are practicing agapé. As members of the Daughters of the King, you practice agapé as you live out your commitment to serve Christ and the community. You are practicing “doing love” – loving one another through doing something to help them and to show your Christian love for them. That’s one more thing that identifies us as Women of God.

One of the articles on my website is called “God’s Still Working On Me.” That phrase comes from a song we used to sing in youth group of the same name. It goes like this:

God's Still Working on Me

He’s still working on me to make me what I ought to be.
It took Him just a week to make the moon and stars,
The Sun and the Earth and Jupiter and Mars.
How loving and patient He must be, He’s still working on me.

There really ought to be a sign upon my heart,
Don’t judge me yet, there’s an unfinished part.
But I’ll be perfect just according to His plan
Fashioned by the Master’s loving hands. And it goes on…

This is what it means to present ourselves as a work in progress – we are living in a world knowing that we aren’t perfect – that God is indeed still working on us. Yes, we are a masterpiece of God’s creation, made in his image but notice that does not mean that we are exact copies – if we were, we’d all be God and that would be a mess for sure. What it does mean is that we are made of good stuff – God’s stuff – stuff he used to make the most precious creature in his world. So, we aren’t fluff or just any old lint or sand he picked up off the primordial earth. We are his holy dust – his purest and most loved particles of his created earth and so we too are all a Child of God and as adult females, we are all Women of God.

And when we present ourselves in the world, knowing God’s word, knowing our God personally, knowing that our God sent his only Son to save us all from ourselves and the evil in the world, and that we are saved for all eternity, we are offering ourselves to the world as Women of God. And the more we remind ourselves and each other of this holy designation, the more we show everybody around us that we are becoming more like Jesus as we seek to know Him and obey Him. With every offered hand, with every offered prayer, with every offered gift, we become more like Jesus, we speak his Word, and with everything we learn about God and Jesus and what they have called us to be, we become more and more what God made us to be – Women of God. Amen.

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A Tribute to Margaret Perry – April 7, 2013

On April 7, 2013, the congregation of Jermain UMC paid tribute to a great lady – Margaret Howard Perry. A member of Jermain for more than 87 years, she is now approaching the 100-year milestone. To be absolutely sure that she, her family, and community know how much she is loved and appreciated, we decided to celebrate her amazing life and ministry before it would be considered a memorial. Margaret is a kind and loving person who has always put God and church above the things of the world. She is wise and humble, a model for all Christians and the people of Jermain UMC and the White Creek community. Margaret, we salute you!!

The service began with this Call to Worship

We come to God this morning with grateful hearts for his precious gift of aging, which we see so beautifully in our dear sister Margaret Howard Perry. With grace and dignity she has shown us all a strong faith full of wisdom, and the godly example of a lifetime of love and hospitality. Margaret, this morning we honor you with this special day of Thanksgiving and celebration for 98 years of life devoted to God, Jermain Church, family, friends, the community of White Creek, and a faith in God that has supported you and been witness to those around you for almost a century. We love you and we hope you will enjoy your favorite hymns and a message that not only conveys our love for you, but also God’s love and blessing for you and all those who live such a long and faithful life.

Read on to enjoy my sermon…

Many of you know that my grandmother lived with us from the time I was nine years old until long after I had finished college, got married, and moved away from home. I think that I have also mentioned that she was difficult, set in her ways, and very critical. Her sister, whom we called “Auntie,” was totally opposite – sweet, gentle, kind, and never said a negative word that I ever heard, except to tell her sister to “Be nice!” How many times I wished that Auntie was my grandmother – she was the ideal – what everyone hopes their grandmother will be like AND the kind of grandmother I decided many years ago that I would be.

The first time I spoke with Margaret Perry, more than 6 years ago, I thought, “Wow, she sounds just like Auntie.” Then I met her in person and it was like my dear sweet Auntie had returned. I have to admit that, through the years, I had let my negative experience with my grandmother affect my feelings about live-in grandparents and even the way I felt about the elderly in general. She had been my only grandparent, as her husband died when I was a year old and my father’s parents died when he was 3 years old and I felt slighted. Most of my friends had 3 or 4 – at least 2 – grandparents and I knew I had missed out on something special.

Over the years, I have had a change in heart for 2 reasons:

  1. I have met and grown to know and love many very special elderly folks , and
  2. I have become an elderly folk myself.

Now I know that not all old folks are set-in-their-ways-crotchedy-and critical. Many more are like Auntie – sweet-loving-caring – and like Margaret. Besides, even though I always knew that we should honor our mothers and fathers, I soon discovered that Scripture also tells us that older persons should mentor younger ones and that younger ones should honor and respect older adults. There are several verses in Proverbs that remind us that the older adults, especially those with graying hair, are wise and knowledgeable from living long lives and that it is prudent for the younger ones to listen to them and learn from them.

Yet today, our society seems to push aside older adults, viewing them as useless, feeble, and unable to care for themselves or make decisions for themselves. They are no longer the “beautiful” people that advertisements say they must be. They are thought to be depriving younger people of medical care and so we hide older adults away in nursing homes and adult facilities so we don’t have to think about them.

Scriptures show us a whole different society. The Bible is full of examples of people who lived full and active lives and who continued to serve God well into their later years in life. Many of the most renowned characters in the Bible were well into their elder years, and God was still calling them out for ministry. Abraham and Sarah began their family in their older years. Moses was in his 80’s, and his brother Aaron older than he when God called them to take the Israelite nation into the Promise Land. Naomi was a widow and older woman when she decided to go back to her former homeland and saw a grandchild born who would be part of the ancestry of Jesus. Paul was well into his older years when he became a missionary and traveled extensively, starting new churches. Simeon and Anna, in their elder years, were faithful to watch for the birth of the Messiah and were blessed to live long enough to see Christ. Fishermen started second careers. Timothy’s grandmother was an influence upon his ministry.

Remember, Jesus promised us abundant life — not one necessarily free from aches and pains, but one that can be rewarding and full of joy, and for many years to come. And many of us here in this room are living long and abundant lives but we also keep saying, “what we need is more young people.” And that’s OK, because I think that’s the natural order of things. We’re all getting older and can’t do as much as we used to, but I have another thought about that. A friend told me once that he had been to a new church. “We sampled it,” he said. “We sat kind of in the back, and it was fine but we didn’t go back. There were just too many gray heads in there.” I said to him, “You know, those gray heads are a good thing. They’re veteran leaders. They know where they’re going. They know how to get there, and I’ve found that I want to go with them – I want to be wise like them – like Margaret.” I like being a “gray head” – I like knowing the words without using the book. I like knowing all the hymns; in fact, I thought I knew most all of the old traditional Christian hymns until I met up with Marilyn and Margaret and Maurice – I have learned so many of these dear old hymns and each time we sing them, I can see the light of recognition and joy on the faces of our “gray heads” as they slip into them like old, comfortable blue jeans. Remember when your mother would buy you the darkest blue, stiffest jeans in the world, and then she wanted you to wear them without washing them first. They were miserable – scratchy and hard until you had broken them in, and then they felt just like those hymns – nice and comfortable.

So there are some good things about being older, even though being old has become a rather nebulous measurement. In the United States being older is kind of a function of the Social Security system. You now become eligible for Social Security when you are 66; of course it was 65 until I started to get close. It’s kind of an imaginary line that’s been moved throughout the years and they’re eventually going to move it up to 67. But, while our financial old age is measured by that movable milestone, we have moved it even further. I remember when 70 was really old; in fact, in many industries, 72 was considered the mandatory retirement age but my father was still going strong, fixing taxes and keeping books until he was 79. More and more we hear about 100-year birthday celebrations and tributes like this one for an almost-centenarian. I didn’t ever think I wanted to live to be 97.7 years old until I met Margaret but if I can do the last segment of my life as she has, I will be happy to live as long as she has, to love as much as she has, to watch as many of her offspring be born, grow up, and bring more life into the world as she has, and to look around the room and see that not only am I the oldest person in the room, I am a far sight healthier than most of them. Watching Margaret deal graciously with her fading eyesight, weakening lungs, and the other challenges presented by a body that has withstood almost a century of this world, I feel blessed to know and minister to her. One of the longest sentences I have ever heard from Margaret was uttered on the day I became your Pastor. She said, with characteristic sincerity, humor, and honesty, “If there’s anything we don’t like, you’ll be the first to know about it.” Even though a woman of few words, her gentle wisdom has informed and inspired me, her consistent presence at Bible Study, Church services, and any other activity of this congregation has impressed me, and her smiling face has warmed my heart almost every week in the past 6 years. The only time we miss here here on Sundays is when she’s off gallivanting around the country – So when her spot in that pew is empty, it is a big hole in my Sunday.

Today is mostly about Margaret but I would not be doing my job if I didn’t point out that our Scripture for today was carefully chosen to remind Margaret and all of us of some essential truths about God and aging:

  • God spoke through the prophet Isaiah and assured the people of Israel that “even when you turn gray, I will carry you.” No matter how old we get, God will continue to love and support us.
  • The Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that from Abraham, “and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.” God used some of the most elderly in Israel to carry out his plan of salvation and many of the most faithful of our age are well past middle age.
  • The story of Zacchaeus, the vertically-challenged tax collector, illustrates that Jesus does not base acceptance on physical stature. God loves and accepts us no matter what we look like, what we’ve done, or who we are; he only cares that we want to meet him enough to move past all that – even to climb a tree to get to him. Zacchaeus also reminded me of Margaret.

There are many more encouraging words in Scripture for Margaret and all who find themselves on the high side of the aging process. You have each received a devotional aid to keep as you move through the remaining years of your lives. On one side is a daily devotional that I imagine Margaret might do every day – you can just insert your own words. On the other side, you may notice that the background picture I found entitled “God Smiles” and it seemed to me a perfect backdrop for God’s words of love for his aging creatures. Will you join me in the responsive reading that I hope will bring you peace and maybe even a smile, this and every day:

Leader: Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you (Exodus 20:12).
People: We pray that the long years will be good years.
Leader: The glory of youths is their strength, but the beauty of the aged is their gray hair (Proverbs 20:29).
People: Give us strength and experience.
Leader: Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life (Proverbs 16:31).

People: Day by day, we strive to be more holy.
Leader: Listen to your father who begot you, and do not despise your mother when she is old. (Proverbs 23:22).

People: We who are parents teach and nurture in love.
Leader: So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to all the generations to come (Psalm 71:18).
People: Help us to always tell the story of Jesus and his love.
Leader: In old age they (cedars) still produce fruit; they are always green and full of sap (Psalm 92:14).
People: Let the world look past the wrinkles and see the soul. Give us the grace to let our souls be worth seeing.

I invited Margaret to join me at the front of the church as the worship ended with this Prayer of Thanksgiving and Blessing for Margaret Howard Perry.

Margaret, we thank you for sharing your life with us, for your veteran leadership in our church, your hospitable home where all are welcome, your wisdom which you have shared with everyone,  your love, and your faith in God, the church, and yourself, all of which you have shared so freely. Your life is an example to the rest of us and we are proud to be walking alongside you in this journey. Your life is a witness to God, an example to me, to all of us, and to the world. I personally thank you, as everyone here does, for letting me walk with you. I hope that my journey will be as honorable as yours and someday, I hope to be walking where you are, waiting for the pearly gates to open and welcome me home, where we will all finally be together again.  Let us pray.

God in heaven, we give you thanks for Margaret,  for her sweet disposition, her strong faith and leadership in Jermain Church, her hospitality, love and care for family, her good humor, generosity, and wisdom. Thank you for giving her to us for all these years and for those still to come. Bless her, dear Father, with  an even longer life, good health, more and more grand-offspring, and a strong faith that will sustain her throughout what is yet to come. Give her much love – your own and  ours, that she will feel loved for the rest of her days and then some. Fill her with the peace that comes from knowing that the death and resurrection of your Son, Jesus, has won the final victory over death and assured her of a room in your heavenly mansion. In his name, we pray. Amen.

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Susan Bowman, the “LadyFather” has written a book on her experiences in the ordained ministry.  Aptly named “Lady Father,” it is slated for re-release in the near future.  Subscribe now to receive a publication announcement and check out Susan’s Facebook page at http://facebook.com/ladyfather.

A Service of Lessons and Carols – Christmas 2011

This is a Service of Lesson and Carols for the fourth Sunday of Advent. It isn’t your traditional Lessons and Carols since we did not rehearse the history of God’s creation from Adam to Jesus. Each member was given a small booklet entitled “My Christmas To-Do List” and the Service consisted of Scripture and Carols along with suggestions as how to use the booklet to “Keep the Christ in Christmas.” You can download the booklet to use during the week by clicking HERE. Keep it to refer to as you come back every day.

ADVENT 4

DECEMBER 18, 2011


BIDDING PRAYER:

Beloved in Christ, this Christmas season it is our duty and delight to prepare ourselves to hear again the message of the angels, to go in heart and mind to Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, to see Mary, God’s chosen, her faithful husband Joseph, and the Baby Jesus lying in a manger with only the hay to cushion his head and cloths to keep him warm.

Let us pray.

Father in heaven, open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit that, as the Scriptures are read, our Christmas carols are sung, and your Word proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you say to us and that you will bless these words with your divine grace that they may bless us with their power and their truth. As we gaze on this familiar and holy scene, let us not forget that it is this tiny baby boy who is the “reason for the season.” Remind us every day that what we celebrate is this incredible gift of God for all people – the gift of his Son, who will live in love, die for love, and be raised by love for the salvation of the world. Let us not get lost in the shopping and baking, in the wrapping and decorating, in the fun and pleasure that we find in our earthly celebrations of the Christmas season. Every morning bring our hearts back to that one moment in time when your love for us became so huge that it burst forth in the person of Jesus. As we go about our daily routines and our Christmas preparations, fill our hearts with thankfulness and praise for your gift so that they may overflow with love and pour it out on the people around us. As we end each day, bless us with your peace so that our bodies and our spirits will awaken anew to the joy of the season. Amen.


Let us begin our worship this morning with the haunting words and music of the Prophet Isaiah, “O come, O come Emmanuel.”  (UMH #211 “O come, O come Emmanuel”)

It’s hard to hear this hymn every Advent and not think of what is coming in just a few short weeks. Today, we are only one week away from the day we celebrate Emmanuel, God with us. As we enter this week before Christmas, I am offering to you an opportunity to really enjoy Christmas by focusing on the “reason for the season.”

Listen to the words of the Apostle Paul to the Romans: (13:11-14).

“Make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. The night is about over, dawn is about to break. Be up and awake to what God is doing! God is putting the finishing touches on the salvation work he began when we first believed. We can’t afford to waste a minute, must not squander these precious daylight hours in frivolity and indulgence, in sleeping around and dissipation, in bickering and grabbing everything in sight. Get out of bed and get dressed! Don’t loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute. Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about!”

Although the apostle Paul wrote this passage long ago, it perfectly describes our modern challenge for the days leading up to Christmas. Day-to-day obligations increase as Christmas gets closer and people think about the entertaining, shopping, decorating, and all the necessary chores that are necessary to have a perfect Christmas. But, as Paul said, the best is yet to come; deliverance is near! Dawn is about to break! God is interceding in human affairs to provide something life-giving, real, and lasting. Far from the temporary satisfaction we get from acquiring things, God’s incredible love is actually dwelling among us. We are receiving a gift beyond anything conceived by humanity and way more valuable than anything marketed on store shelves.

If we truly want a life-giving Christmas, drawing closer to God will have to take priority over any material desire on this year’s wish list. So, during this last week in Advent, our focus will have to be on living into the eternal hope we have as believers in Jesus, carrying that hope for others, knowing that no matter what we go through, we are never alone. With this hope as our focus, as we approach Christmas Day, God will break through our circumstances and shed his light on them. The focus of all the activities of the week can put one’s Christmas list in perspective as we concentrate on seeking God first.

Let us remain seated as we sing a familiar hymn to help us remember the one who is expected – the one who came to set God’s people free – the one on whom we will focus our thoughts and activities this week. (UMH #196 “Come, thou long-expected Jesus”)

“My Christmas To-Do List”- Sunday

As we leave church today, we will all have this booklet to help us think about the long-expected Messiah – the one who came to earth as one of us – and what that means in our lives. When you get home today I hope you will take some time to begin this journey with me. It’s simple. It’s called “My Christmas To-Do List.” There are no rules to this exercise – I encourage you to use this as it will be most helpful to you. There is only one thing – it’s what I call a “must-doable.” That is whatever you write in your booklet, it must be doable. It’s great to wish for peace on earth but make sure that you include something that is doable for you. It’s nice to want to feed all the hungry in Washington County but, unless you plan on throwing a huge dinner at the hall, keep it doable.

So the first thing to do is to – what else do we do at Christmas? Make a list. But this is not a list of things you want Santa to bring or things you want your family to buy for you. This first list, which you will make today, is entitled, “Things I will talk with God about today.” This will become your prayer list for the rest of the day and tomorrow. Think about your family members – is anyone hurting this year? Has there been a loss in your family? List those who are living through their first Christmas without their loved one, those who lost a job, anyone who has suffered a devastating loss. Keep them in your heart for the rest of the day and pray for them before you sleep.

MONDAY, DECEMBER 19th

 Now, listen to more words from the Prophet Isaiah (9:2, 6-7.)

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.”

 As you consider looking past your many Christmas chores to the people around you, let the words of this hymn move you to open your heart to the one who made Christmas the biggest birthday part in the universe. (UMH #213 “Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates”)

“My Christmas To-Do List” – Monday

Your list for Monday again has nothing to do with the “things” of Christmas. It has to do with the people around you – maybe some of those on Sunday’s list. The people you put on this list are the people around you who are alone, maybe in a nursing home. Add anyone you know who is having a tough time or anyone you want to re-connect with this week. Maybe you know someone who could use an encouraging word or a sweet Christmas card. Even if you have decided to not send out hundreds of dollars worth of cards this year, think of those who really need such an expression of love and care. Work your way through this list and every time you check off a name, say a little prayer for that person and give thanks that God has given you the love and compassion to reach out to those you love.

As you can tell, this is not your everyday, run-of-the-mill preparation for the Christmas season. Our focus is definitely not on the traditional activities of this time of the year. Sunday and Monday are all about hope – how the birth of Jesus brings hope to the world and how we can find hope and help others find hope by sharing the story of Christ’s birth with things as simple as a Christmas card, a phone call, or a visit accompanied by some Christmas cookies you made with your kids who were wanting to spend some time with you.

We’ve all heard the words of the next reading many times – some of it we may even know by heart. It’s tempting to zone out during such familiar words but I ask you this morning to focus on the words of the Gospel of Luke as he tells the story of the birth of Jesus.

(Luke 2:1-14)

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. 

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

 Let’s sing these words now – again a familiar hymn that we need to really sing, really listen to, and take into our hearts this year.  (UMH #230 “O little town of Bethlehem”)

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 20th

“My Christmas To-Do List” – Tuesday

Your list for Tuesday should be simple but essential in your quest to focus on the reason for the season. To do that, create a double list. On the left side, name three things that you do every year – things that maybe have not focused on the “reason for the season” in the past. On the right side, write what you will do differently this week, substituting things that bring renewed hope and faith, rather than depleting energy and bank accounts. For example, instead of spending all day Saturday shopping for the perfect gifts, you might spend Saturday morning having coffee with someone you’ve missed seeing lately. Or, you might get together your kids and their friends who talk about nothing but what they want for Christmas and take them to the Health Center or the Danforth and sing Christmas carols to the residents.

You can also list things you can do differently that will make the Christ Child the center of your Christmas celebrations. Maybe you need a creche set, or to clean up the ancient and well-used one in the attic, and how about using it for a centerpiece instead of installing it high on the mantelpiece where only Santa will be able to see it. You could make an arrangement of all the Christmas cards you receive which show the baby Jesus, the holy family, or any of the words, hope, peace, love, and joy. Look around your home and your life and find those places where you can place the baby Jesus front and center for all to see. Focus on the peace that Jesus can bring to your life and to your world and make that the center of your decorations.

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 21st

Peace is something we all crave and it’s something Jesus spoke of often. In the Advent season, the first we hear about this peace is from John the Baptist announced that the Christ child was coming of age. (Luke 3:15-18)

“I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. The real action comes next: The main character in this drama—compared to him I’m a mere stagehand—will ignite the kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.”

This is the peace that exists within the kingdom life, but the good news of Christmas is that we don’t have to wait for that life as if it were a distant dream. We can put into practice the way of peace in our lives and even in the world. When we do that by focusing on the Prince of Peace, we will find peace with God, peace with others, and peace in our actions – from home to community, and far beyond. This peace is not necessarily a lack of conflict or trouble or even those bad things that always seem to be happening to good people, but it is a deep, abiding sense that we know our purpose and that by God’s grace we will live into God’s dreams for us.

“My Christmas To-Do List” – Wednesday

On Wednesday, your list will be all about the possibilities for God’s peace to inhabit and infuse the world. It’s easy to seek material things to try and find some peace in our lives, and we tend to do that for the majority of the year. The truth is when we seek Christ, we actually find it without those things. So one would think that we would at least look for peace at this time of the year in the right places. Instead, we become unsettled over all the things we have to do, the things we cannot afford to do, and even the things that we love to do. Somehow, it seems that all of this becomes the “have tos” of the season, making us feel that our lives are out of control. The recession may be affecting your ability to “do” everything you want to do, to buy all the right gifts. There may be a sense of restlessness in your heart. Peace may feel far away. John’s words beckon us to put things in perspective. He reminds us that the kingdom life exists when we keep the main thing the main thing. It seems natural around Christmas that Jesus would be the main thing, yet so often we lose that focus as we prepare for the holidays.

So, your list for Wednesday is: How can I keep Jesus the main “thing” in Christmas? Before you start your list, try this technique. Imagine you are a stagehand for Jesus. Your only role is to set things up for Jesus to be seen, heard, and experienced. What will you do? How will you focus the spotlight? How will you elevate Jesus? What kind of mood will you create so Jesus is best received? If we were to live as Jesus’ stagehands, how would we build a “set” for peace? How would we live our lives as part of that “set”?

This is basically what we do in worship. We set the stage for Christ to be honored. But, we don’t have to leave that here in the church. We can extend this mentality into our daily lives because the more we focus on Jesus, the more peace we will find. Include in your list ways of reordering your life with a focus on preparing for your celebration of Christmas that will bring peace to you and those around you.

One of my favorite Christmas carols totally exudes peace whenever we sing or hear it. It’s maybe the most familiar hymn in the Christian church. Let’s sing these immortal words together and let their peace seep into your heart. (UMH #239 “Silent Night”)

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 22nd

“My Christmas To-Do List” – Thursday

As the week wears on, most people find an even greater need and craving for peace – just a walk through the mall will send you running for a peaceful refuge. So on Thursday, think about areas in your life and in your community that need peace. This is another double list – on the left, identify your needs for peace. On the right, list things you can do to promote peace. List the places in the world needing peace, even those too far away for you to make a difference because there is no place too far away for God to bring peace. This will be your prayer list for the day – places where destruction and violence exist, the dark places where pain and suffering seem to overwhelm and destroy – places where no one knows the good news of God’s gift of the Christ Child. Pray for these and the people who live there; ask God to fill them with his peace.

The story of the birth of Jesus continues now: (Luke 2:15-20)

“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”

 As we reach the end of this story, it’s obvious that the focus is not on things; it is on the child – the baby Jesus – the Son of God. Let’s sing about this child. (UMH #219 “What child is this?”)

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 23rd

 Now it’s Friday and here is what you will add to your list: How have you been keeping Christ the main character in your life this week? How has focusing on Jesus brought you some peace in this hectic season? Here are some possibilities for you to practice peace in your own world: Where you hear gossip, offer a good word. Where people experience brokenness, do what you can to heal. Where sickness and death prevail, offer a moment of life’s joy. If you have tumultuous relationships in your own life, do what you can to bring about peace. Pray for your enemies that they may be blessed and find peace by trusting that God knows their deepest needs as well as yours.

Above all, to find and pass this peace along, it is necessary to listen to others. To find peace, people need to feel heard and to know they are not alone in their suffering. Those who are so deep in their pain that peace eludes them need peace more than ever. You can bring that peace by infusing into your conversations the reality of God’s grace in your life. Remind them that the reason for the season is that the hope and peace of Christ assures the world that no matter the situation, peace can prevail. In his birth, his life, and his death Jesus taught us that we need to work hard to try to treat others as we would want to be treated – we know that as the golden rule. And if we all practice that, peace is attainable.

This brings us to the part of our worship that we know and love – passing the peace. Many times it becomes a meet-and-greet experience. As we greet each other this morning, remember that peace is a physical representation of God’s grace that goes way beyond our human understanding. Even as we speak the words “Peace be with you” we may be thinking about what we need to buy at the grocery store on the way home or we may be wanting to wish a friend a good day or find out how someone is feeling. The reality about this moment in our worship is this: God’s peace comes through the love God has placed in our hearts so while the words “Peace be with you” are an intentional wish for God to fill that person with peace, even a simple “Good morning,” can bring peace to one who may not have had a good morning today or any other days for a long time. It’s not the exact words that count – it’s the love in our hearts that fill our words with peace.

Pastor: And now the peace of the Lord be always with you.

People: And also with you.

Pastor: Let us greet one another in the name of the Lord.

We are pausing to take time, as we do every Sunday morning, to offer our own gifts to God from the blessings God pours out on us every day of our lives. We sing praises to God as we offer up to God these gifts to be used to spread God’s peace all around us, not just in the week before Christmas, but every day of every week of every year of every life. Let’s sing another favorite Christmas carol that speaks of God’s love and peace given to the world in Jesus. (UMH #238 – “Angels we have heard on high”) 

Christmas Doxology (MAJN #6)

CHRISTMAS EVE, December 24, 2011

 Again, listen to the Prophet Isaiah: (35:1-10).

“Wilderness and desert will sing joyously, the badlands will celebrate and flower—Like the crocus in spring, bursting into blossom, a symphony of song and color. Mountain glories of Lebanon—a gift. Awesome Carmel, stunning Sharon—gifts. God’s resplendent glory, fully on display. God awesome, God majestic. Energize the limp hands, strengthen the rubbery knees. Tell fearful souls, “Courage! Take heart! God is here, right here, on his way to put things right And redress all wrongs. He’s on his way! He’ll save you!”

Blind eyes will be opened, deaf ears unstopped, Lame men and women will leap like deer, the voiceless break into song. Springs of water will burst out in the wilderness, streams flow in the desert. Hot sands will become a cool oasis, thirsty ground a splashing fountain. Even lowly jackals will have water to drink, and barren grasslands flourish richly. There will be a highway called the Holy Road. No one rude or rebellious is permitted on this road. It’s for God’s people exclusively— impossible to get lost on this road. Not even fools can get lost on it. No lions on this road, no dangerous wild animals.  Nothing and no one dangerous or threatening. Only the redeemed will walk on it.

The people God has ransomed will come back on this road. They’ll sing as they make their way home to Zion, unfading halos of joy encircling their heads, Welcomed home with gifts of joy and gladness as all sorrows and sighs scurry into the night.”

Many times, we find ourselves looking for joy in all the wrong places. Forced expectations of joy at this time of year often highlight what is wrong or missing in people’s lives. If people see a stark contrast between their lives and what is presented as a cultural norm, they can feel isolated and depressed. Joy that comes from God can restore a sense of wholeness and community to anyone feeling alone. But get ready — for joy is not a surface-level happy – it is deeply seated in one’s character. Joy may not always manifest itself in smiles and laughter, but rather in a quiet grace and assurance. Joy might be described as knowing something better exists, and holding onto the hope that that which is better is also possible.

Isaiah was focusing on contrast – that in opposition to brokenness, wrongs, sorrows and sighs, God will prevail, and one day all shall be well. We all face many issues in today’s world. We have looked at many of these issues and we have laid out how we can touch those issues in the coming week – through prayer, making contact and connections, and by sharing God’s love in random acts of Christmas love.

“My Christmas To-Do List” – Christmas Eve

Saturday is Christmas Eve and it is a day to focus on the things that bring joy to our lives. In your list today, include the places where God’s presence is evident – in the soup kitchens, food pantries, Christmas donations, and parties for the needy. Include places where you find peace and joy. One obvious example is our worship. What are the things that bring you joy as we sing and pray together; what are the words that speak to you of joy; where do you find joy in God’s house? This is also a double list – on the other side, make a list of those people who crave this joy you have found, people who need to hear and sing about this joy, those who may not come here looking for that joy unless you invite them.

As you look at your list, pray for those you want to invite and if you find yourself hesitating, think again about how you define joy and how much joy you experience in our worship. Think again about those people in your life who need this joy and don’t forget – joy is doubled when you share it with others. Repeat this often; even post it on your refrigerator for the week and then leave it up all year: “Receiving is fun; the real joy comes from giving.”

Remember the words of the herald angels in the sky over Bethlehem: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” Let’s sing about these angels and their message of joy. (#240 “Hark, the herald angels sing”)

The last piece of this celebration is your own Christmas Sermon telling the Good News of the birth of Jesus, the Son of God.

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Susan Bowman, the “LadyFather” has written a book on her experiences in the ordained ministry.  Aptly named “Lady Father,” it is slated for re-release in the near future.  Subscribe now to receive a publication announcement and check out Susan’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ladyfather.

Jonah, Like You’ve Never Heard!

This may be the most amazing Bible Story I’ve every seen/heard/experienced!

I’m including it here for you!

The story of Jonah from Corinth Baptist Church on Vimeo.

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Susan Bowman, the “LadyFather” has written a book on her experiences in the ordained ministry.  Aptly named “Lady Father,” it is slated for re-release in the near future.  Subscribe now to receive a publication announcement and check out Susan’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ladyfather.

I’ve Been to the Mountain

It’s November already and my long-awaited and much-anticipated trip back to “The Holy Mountain” is a sweet memory. I took off on October 26th at the ungodly hour of 6:00 am (Yes, my son wasThe Holy Mountain just thrilled to pick me up at 4:30 am) for the annual William Porcher DuBose Lectures at the School of Theology, University of the South in Sewanee, TN. I graduated in 1984 – 27 years ago!! – but true to form, Sewanee hasn’t changed much. Woodlands still houses seminarians in little bungalows built by the owning dioceses about 60 years ago, the fog is still as thick as pea soup, and when it rains, it really rains. The one thing that has changed drastically is my beloved St. Luke’s Chapel.

I walked in out of the pouring and freezing cold rain on Friday morning for a special Morning Prayer service and was appalled to see regular chairs arrayed in rows, like any ordinary church. Gone were the facing stalls in “choir” and the rood screen, the organ, the altar, and the “Court of the Gentiles” or “the peanut gallery.” Front and center below the stained glass window (which blessedly remains the same) is now a stately grand piano, since this sweet house of worship is now a concert hall. Oh the pain of it all! I started to leave but remembered how much cold rain I had walked through to get there and how long I had looked forward to “Moaning Prayer” in my favorite place. So I took a deep breath and looked for a place to sit. Not many people had braved the weather – probably because most of the alums in attendance were way-post-1984 – so I had my pick. Suddenly I realized that the faculty pews along each wall had been left in place so I decided that at least I could get the same feeling if I sat there – at least I’d be facing the right way.

The first seat I got to still had the name plate on it – The Very Rev. John Booty, Dean – be still my heart!! I said a quick “Thanks” and sat down where our beloved Dean had sat – I knew he would approve. Except for reading the psalm and other things I couldn’t quite remember, I kept my eyes closed, trying to bring back the feeling I had cherished for 3 years – a sense of communion with God and community with those worshiping with me. They were friends, professors, classmates – all who had lived with me through my difficult journey to ordination. It wasn’t quite the same as not a one of them was there in person, but I was quite aware of the “Spirit of St. Luke’s” as we knew and loved it and was grateful that God’s Holy Spirit was still front and center in Sewanee.

The lectures were top-notch – you just can’t get better than Barbara Brown Taylor! She’s my preaching hero and it was an absolute thrill to see her again in person (I attended one of her workshops at the College of Preachers some years ago) and she is still the best preacher I’ve ever heard. After the first presentation – it was all about embracing the darkness in our lives to find the light – she invited feedback and comments and I was the 2nd one in line. I began by informing her that my father was the undisputed founder of the ecological movement as he had insisted that we ALWAYS turn off the light when we left a room – even if we were going right back in. If we didn’t, he somehow magically appeared as we left and when we’d come back – lo and behold the room would be dark! I then said that my sister and I in our old age had finally rebelled by becoming (and here my lame brain could do nothing but make up a word) “lightleaveroners.” Yes, I really said that to one of the top 20 preachers in America! Well, she cracked up – laughed so hard she had to turn away from the microphone. Then said, “I’ll have to get you to write something for my next book!” I almost fainted – of course, I really will faint if that happens – but it sounded great at the moment.

The rest of my comments were anti-climactic and predictable – that I had lived through the darkness and learned to not only embrace it but to be thankful (to some extent) for it. I quoted Maya Angelou’s “Wouldn’t Take Nothin’ For My Journey Now” and said that her amazing biography was the inspiration for my acceptance of my own painful journey as a necessary part of who I have become. I felt myself choking up a little (as I still do all these years later) when I said, “As dark and painful as it all was, I wouldn’t take nothin’ for it now.” The next day, I got up all my courage and asked her if she would accept one of my books. She gracefully agreed and while she signed my new copy of her book “From the Altar,” I signed her new copy of “Lady Father.” What a thrill!

The next day I held a book-signing of my own at a sweet little cafe/gift shop in Monteagle – Lorena’s – and then went out to St. Mary’s Convent to visit Sister Lucy and to meet the new owners of the retreat house. They are wonderful people and they agreed to keep six of my books to sell and were interested in my idea for a retreat about Journeys. I left Sr. Lucy in her wheelchair (from a fall) after a delightful visit and the next day I was up early and off to the airport in Nashville – looking forward to being home at 2:25! Oh…the best laid plans…

My flight was delayed because of the thick fog blanketing all of Eastern Tennessee BUT Sewanee and then delayed even further when we landed in Baltimore. I did make the connection so was only 4 hours late getting home. A nasty travel day but all-in-all, it was a wonderful trip back to “The Mountain.”

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Susan Bowman, the “LadyFather” has written a book on her experiences in the ordained ministry.  Aptly named “Lady Father,” it is slated for re-release in the near future.  Subscribe now to receive a publication announcement and check out Susan’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ladyfather.

Out of the Mouths of Bishops

For the past 24 hours I have been attending a clergy conference. It’s a wonderful opportunity afforded to the clergy of our diocese by our Bishop to get away from it all in a spectacularly holy place called Christ the King Spiritual Life Center in Greenwich, NY. This is an annual event, which I have attended many times during my ministry in the Diocese of Albany. It is really a gift to the clergy as the Bishop not only makes it affordable, even free if you really can’t afford it, he provides a quality speaker and his own gentle presence and spirituality. We have been fortunate to have people from all over the world come and share their spiritual wisdom and God’s message of love and hope for his ministers. This year, Bishop Santosh Marray, Assisting Bishop of the Diocese of East Carolina has been our retreat leader and what a gift!

He started out talking about “stretch marks,” which had everyone, including our Bishop, wondering at the wisdom of bringing this guy in to talk to us. But he quickly put our minds and hearts at ease when he explained that most of what we go through in life causes our spiritual stretch marks, the sign that God is stretching us to learn and grow in some kind of new way or direction. He told us how God had stretched him by sending him to a diocese which had spent the money that had been set aside to build a new church for his congregation. He described how God had stretched him by teaching him to wait while he dealt with the difficult people in his ministry.

This morning he began his message by talking about what we call God. He talked about how the people of the 1st Century didn’t really call God “the Father” because they had grown up with the image of Abraham as the Father of God’s chosen people. For him, the word that Jesus used to talk about his Father in heaven was what worked for him – “Abba.” That’s an Aramaic word that is pretty much untranslatable but is best rendered as “Daddy.” It’s a very familiar form of address that has become a meditative and prayerful word in a lot of contemporary Christian music.

In the middle of all of this, he spoke about the culture he came from and what people called priests. He said that it was interesting to him to find our part of the church in a huge dispute over the use of “Father” as a title. Of course, in the past 20 years, the dispute has been ratcheted up a notch by the ordination of us women, many of whom decided that if the men would be called “Father,” then they should be called “Mother.” If you’ve read my book, you know that I have consistently resisted that moniker as, in my mind, that makes it a gender issue and when God made me a priest, the Bishop didn’t ask God to make me a “woman priest.” I was made a priest by God, just as every other ordinand has been throughout the history of the church.

Well, Bishop Santosh had seen my license plate and he started to talk about it and how I had certainly dealt with the issue for myself since I proudly displayed the name “Lady Father” on my car. He said, “I haven’t read the book but I can tell that this Father thing is not an issue for you – you’ve worked that out haven’t you?” I nodded, dumbfounded that he had so easily and freely advertised my book for me. Suddenly everyone was aware that I had written a book that was for sale. I couldn’t have afforded to pay for an advertisement that good!

When the session was over, I got a book from my car, inscribed and signed it, and when I encountered the Bishop on the way to lunch, I presented it to him as a thank you gift for lifting my book up for everyone in the room to see. I even marked the pages where I tell the story of how I got the name “Lady Father.” I hope he likes the book; I know that I am honored that he might just read it. If you haven’t, I’d be honored if you would read it too.

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Susan Bowman, the “LadyFather” has written a book on her experiences in the ordained ministry.  Aptly named “Lady Father,” it is slated for re-release in the near future.  Subscribe now to receive a publication announcement and check out Susan’s Facebook page at http://facebook.com/ladyfather.

“The Book”

“Lady Father” is on the shelves, so to speak. Actually you can now purchase a copy on Amazon.

Those who know me, know that I have been an Episcopal priest for 33 years and that my journey through the ordination process is legendary in the Diocese of Southern Virginia. I was ordained by a bishop who, for many years, did not believe that women should be in any leadership position in the church – lay or ordained.

I was ordained in a Diocese that elected that bishop on the strength of his opposition to the ordination of women. I was ordained for a church which was struggling with the issue of who should and should not be ordained – well, some things just never change. My experiences as an ordained woman are a mixed bag of satisfying and fulfilling moments as well as agonizing and painful ones. I was adored and hated, extolled and maligned, trusted and questioned at every turn. I was appreciated for my gifts and accepted for my shortcomings by many while my gifts were ignored and my shortcomings were accented and publicly denounced by others. I was yelled at, accused, and castigated for “trying to steal money from the church” because I dared to suggest a reasonable salary package and when I defended my original package from attempts to decrease my benefits.

As I have pondered and assessed these experiences, it is clear to me that I would not have been treated as I was if I had been a man. I was also accepted by many as a priest with no regard to my gender and I know that I made a difference in the lives of many faithful Episcopalians. I continue to hear from people to whom I have ministered over the years, thanking me for my care as their priest. Following my first “sort-of” retirement, I ministered to a tiny group of United Methodists in upstate New York who loved me and treated me like a pastor – period. They never yelled at me, rarely criticized me, and they didn’t complain behind my back (mainly because they just don’t do that but also because I told them that I would leave immediately if they did!). I have been hurt too many times by the “closet complainers” and I am not willing to be the object of such secretive and destructive behavior in the church ever again. I truly found my niche in my semi-retirement and after 12 years with them, I have finally and completely retired. As I have reflected on my ministry, I have discovered a strength that only comes from adversity along with a burning desire to share my experiences with other women (and men!) who may be facing the same or similar treatment as an ordained person or anyone facing discrimination in the church or any place. I want desperately to help anyone who finds themselves the object of such unconscionable treatment to deal with it, rise above it, overcome it, and process it. My negative experiences no longer control my life and I would love to help others come to this point. “Lady Father” relates my experiences in the ordination process and in parish ministry as a woman in a male-dominated field in the 80’s, 90’s, and into the 21st century. I hope you will want to read it and will get your copy from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, IndieBound, and other distributors. I hope you enjoy reading it and also that you will come back here to my blog frequently to read my continuing articles on “things of the faith.”

Please subscribe today and let your friends and relatives know about this sort of wild and crazy woman who has written a great book and has a very cool blog! So, I’ve been busy and continue to be, as you can see. Call me if you need help ordering the book or if you just want to talk. Cell – 518-330-9750; Email – gabba65@susanbowman.net. There are other posts in this category – all together tell the story of “Lady Father – The Book”!

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Susan Bowman, the “LadyFather” has written a book on her experiences in the ordained ministry.  Aptly named “Lady Father,” it has now been re-released and is available on Amazon. com.  Register to receive her newsletter and important emails and don’t forget to check out Susan’s Facebook page at http://facebook.com/ladyfather.


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Earthquake!!

I WAS THERE!

I was in that riding grocery cart (in the white circle) in a Food Lion store in Louisa, VA – approximately 4-5 miles from the epicenter of the earthquake. A little background as to how I, a residence of Delmar NY, happened to be in Louisa VA at that moment. I was on vacation with my sister and her family on Lake Anna near Mineral VA. Who had ever heard of Mineral VA before Tuesday, 8/23/2011?? I am FROM Virginia and I had never heard of it. I knew of Louisa but had never been there. On Tuesday, I had to find a post office to mail the wedding license for a ceremony I had conducted on Saturday and we needed a few groceries so I took off with my nephew’s teen-aged son, Ben, and his friend Oscar for the closest grocery store (as it ended up, I went further than I needed to for a grocery store but I didn’t know it at the time). We found the post office in Louisa, visited the Walgreens store (which seems to be Ben’s most favorite store in the whole world!! Go figure!), bypassed the Hardee’s for the moment (which turned out to be a huge mistake for me since I haven’t had a Peach milk shake since the many daily trips to St Mary’s Hospital in Richmond when Dad was so sick 6 months before he died), and headed for the Food Lion.

Since my knees are really painful at this point, I grabbed a riding cart, the boys took off for more interesting places than dairy products, and I started my search for the few items on my list. I hadn’t found any of them so I cruised up the soda aisle to grab a Diet Coke (what else?) and saw a store employee so I had stopped to ask her where to find Bagel Chips when there was a huge noise that sounded like an explosion, the floor and shelves started shaking violently, soft drinks in 2-liter bottles and six-packs of cans and bottles started falling and flying off the shelves, exploding as they hit the floor, my cart began to move around – not enough to be terribly hazardous but enough to scare the h— out of me! – and the woman I was speaking to looked at me like I had three heads when I asked her, “Do you have earthquakes in Louisa?” After the shaking stopped and the flying sodas were spewing their contents all over the floor around me, I figured it was time to get moving – as I got out of the cart my brain finally kicked into real time again and I began yelling for Ben. I was trying to run down the aisle but heard a voice yelling, “Lady, be careful!”  The caution that has become second nature for me since I first injured my knee in 1964 kicked in and I realized suddenly that I was moving way too quickly through a foaming, slippery sea of soft drink and that this was the kind of situation that usually ended up with me on the floor! BUT I didn’t know where Ben and Oscar were and that trumped everything else so I kept moving, yelling “Ben!” at least five times before I reached the end of the aisle and heard his sweet voice calling for me with as much panic in his voice as I was feeling, “Aunt Susan!”

We finally met up and the last time I felt such relief was when I found Scott after losing him in a mall many years ago.  I was trying to decide what to do – after all, I had left home with a mission – to get groceries. A woman was rubbing her ankle where she had been hit by a flying can of peas or something, a man in a Coca-Cola shirt was taking pictures with his phone camera AND, as it turns out Oscar was also taking pictures, but I just wanted to get us to safety. As we started moving towards the door, Ben said excitedly, “Aunt Susan, you gotta see this – come on!” He took off toward another aisle and I was in such shock that I followed him without even thinking. As we got about half-way down the aisle, he turned and said, “You gotta see this huge crack in the floor – it just opened up…” I didn’t need to hear any more – my good sense finally kicked in and I said, “Ben, I don’t want to see a crack in the floor – I want to get out of here” and we turned and headed for the door.

People all around us were either just standing in a dazed state of inaction or talking on a cell phone. In fact, almost every person we could see had a cell phone in their hands and were either punching in numbers furiously or talking anxiously to someone on the other end. We finally got outside and while I felt another huge sense of relief to be out of that building that didn’t feel like a really safe place to be, that was when I really began to shake. The adrenalin kicked in with a vengeance and I could tell the boys were having the same experience. We headed for the car and as we drove away, we decided that we needed COMFORT FOOD so we pulled into Hardees only to find out that they were not operational – of course – doh! – and I had missed my Peach milkshake! We took off for Mineral where we did find an open store with cherry topping all over the floor but ice cream waiting in the cooler. So we got our cones, decided that groceries could wait, and headed for the house. I missed a turn and we ended up on some road which took us about 10 minutes to realize wasn’t the right one. Ben fired up my phone GPS and we discovered that we had gone 5 miles in the wrong direction. 45 minutes later, we finally found the house and were greeted with hugs and stories of pictures falling off the walls and stuff flying off the mantelpiece while the house felt like it was coming apart. Everybody had a tale to tell and it took some time before we could get the word out to family from Woodbridge VA to Delmar NY that we were all safe. The internet and cell phone networks were jammed and we found that the most available vehicle for communication was facebook.

We have had many conversations and experienced several aftershocks – a really hard one in the middle of last night – and I have been reminded of a conference Mom and I attended many years ago where the keynote speaker was the Bishop of California. He had just lived through the SF quake (when the double-decker interstate collapsed) and he shared with us his “earthquake theology.” It all came back to me – it goes like this: God made the earth with its overlapping plates that would shift whenever necessary to relieve pressure within the planet. These “natural” occurrences have been happening since day one, just as God intended. Humanity, in all its wisdom, has for the most part decided to either ignore the hazards of certain spots on the globe where these plates overlap causing “faults” (aptly named but not strong enough I guess to ward off our need to build what and where we want) or that we are somehow going to be immune to such dangers. We have built homes at the top of seaside slopes, skyscrapers on unstable property, and all sorts of structures way too close to those fault lines. We have built and built and then wondered why God would let such awful damage and loss of life occur as earthquakes destroyed our man-made treasures. Bishop Swing ‘s theology had 2 main points:

  1. God does not “cause” earthquakes – they happen as a natural consequence of the way the earth is made. He said, “Since God loves us more than anything, it’s obvious that God never intended these “faults” to cause us harm. I guess God gave us more credit than we deserve since we didn’t use the gift of reason in such a way that would keep us away from the faults where we might be safe.”
  2. God allows us to build our lives with the free will given us after creation – this means we are free to build our structures wherever we want just as we are free to build our lives in whatever environments we choose, according to whatever moral laws we choose to follow, and with whatever belief and faith system we choose to guide us.

So, he said, “Whenever I feel the tremors of an earthquake, I now think, ‘Go God!’ because I realize that it is God’s way of saving our world once again from its natural pressure cooker. And when I see the images of destruction all over the area, I now think, ‘Look, God, we’ve done it again’ and I pray that God will bless those who have been injured or killed as a result of our stubborn need to do our own thing and give us the grace and wisdom to look at the rubble of our modern civilization and find a new place to re-build.” I remember thinking how weird our world would look with huge empty spaces where these faults are located and my first thought was, “How could we ever avoid them all?” I also thought of the hardship for many people whose livelihoods are centered around places like San Francisco and other centers of commerce and what many people call “easy living.” But, when you look at just that one area and all of the pain and loss that has resulted from earthquakes, it seems that inconvenience is a small price to pay if such destruction can be avoided.

Anyway, I remember Bishop Swing with his serious theological argument for what he called “living with God’s earthquakes.” He went on in his keynote speech, which was entitled “Earthquakes and Church-quakes” to call for the Church to heed the same call to caution and diligence in building our public faith on what he called the ‘faith-faults’ of our materialistic society and a mis-guided organized religion. It was an amazing conference as we all got a glimpse into a new way of thinking about God’s world and the church. It has been good to recall all of that and to remember, as I sat there listening to him, that I had no idea what it was like to live through an earthquake of any size. Now I do and his “Earthquake Theology” has taken on new meaning for me. I have always believed that God’s world is of such divine design that I cannot even come close to comprehending why things happen as they do. I consistently tell my sweet flock in White Creek NY that some things are “God things” and we’re not supposed to know those things but accept them on faith and wait for the “big day” when we can ask God in person, “What the … was that about?”

So I don’t know if this “biggest earthquake on the East coast in 114 years” is a message or just a natural occurrence or maybe it’s both. Only God knows. But this I do know – I’m grateful to be sitting here with my computer on my lap writing about the “earthquake of the century.” For some reason, I was there, I survived, and I thank God for it all. Now, for those who know my family, you will be interested in slipping over to my Facebook page to see my great-nephew Ben and his friend Oscar being interviewed by multiple news crews – all of which ended up on the cutting room floor. But I am here to tell you – they were super!! Very grown-up, very polite, and very disappointed to miss their 15 seconds of fame. So go check them out! http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lady-Father/101501477117807243

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Susan Bowman, the “LadyFather” has written a book on her experiences in the ordained ministry.  Aptly named “Lady Father,” it is now available on Amazon.com.  Register below to receive our newsletter and important emails. Don’t forget to check out Susan’s Facebook page at http://facebook.com/ladyfather.

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Priesthood – Who Can Wear It?

This question has been hotly debated throughout history. From the early days of the church when some women in the Church at Corinth were criticized by Paul for disrupting worship to the 21st century when many women now function as deacons, priests, and bishops. There is now widespread acceptance of women as clergy at every level in many denominations, but the debate still rages on and, no doubt, will continue until the second coming, when Christ will return and settle the issue.

The Priesthood is a mantle, worn by those whom God has called to serve him through his church. Even though the word “Priest” is a title, which confers on a person a position of authority, Priesthood is NOT a title conveyed by humans and it is NOT a position of authority granted by human hands. The Priesthood is God’s gift to those who answer the call to minister to God’s people through the sacraments of the church. As such, it is given by God through the Holy Spirit. In the history of the Church, there has never been a moment when God said, “Only men can be touched by my Spirit to do my bidding.” Actually, there has never been a moment when God said, “Here’s how you make a priest….” What there has been is God’s calling on the hearts of people in every walk of life to be God’s priest by serving and by offering Christ’s sacrifice, healing, blessing, and anointing.

In our human wisdom, the church has developed a process of examination and discernment to ensure that the church is only served by qualified people. As cumbersome and painful as this process can be, it seems to be necessary as the ministry to God’s people has become more and more demanding and, every day, the knowledge needed to instruct God’s people increases. So, the church has imposed its human methods of setting apart those it deems worthy of the position and title. Unfortunately, human examination and discernment often weed out those who have been genuinely called by God as the standards imposed by this process are many times not guided by God’s desires but by the needs and beliefs of the humans behind the process. Historically, the conclusion of the human process has been:
•    Men
•    Faithful
•    Devoted
•    Well-educated in God’s word and Church history
•    Approved by human standards of decency and morality

There are countless reasons for those conclusions, especially the first one and it is not the intent of this article to rehearse them all. The point here is that this mantle of Priesthood has been given to men and women of God’s church since the earliest days of God’s creation. There were men and women anointed as judges in the government and Jesus accepted women in any roles that were allowed by the society in which they lived as well as those that were not.  He gave his blessing on women to serve him as they followed him in his earthly ministry and even gave them the greatest ministry he could at the time – that of evangelist. He sent women to tell the Apostles the good news of his resurrection from the dead. Jesus placed no restrictions on who could be a follower and a disciple.

The church of today has many restrictions on women in the church. These are human restrictions, regardless of how the church manipulates Scripture to put discriminatory words in the mouths of Jesus and Paul and others who wrote of the ministry of the church. The restrictions which persist into the modern church were set and condoned and continued by the humans who took upon themselves the ministry of administering the church’s policies throughout history. A trip through Church history makes one thing clear – the policies and practices of the Church have changed, are changing, and will always continue to change as long as humans are involved. The only thing that has not changed is that Jesus is the head of the Church, the author of our salvation, and the ultimate authority of our faith. The mantle of Priesthood comes under the authority of Jesus and, while he left his Church in the hands of his Apostles, his intention was that it grow and develop under his authority and according to his standards.

This is why we don’t throw people out of the church when they sin; we teach forgiveness and we practice it. This is why we don’t make people take a test to receive God’s love; we teach unconditional love and we practice it. Jesus practiced inclusiveness in his community of disciples; women were included and welcome and given the most vital assignments. They were included and empowered by Jesus to the very limits of what the society allowed and even beyond. To Jesus, there was “no male and female,” only followers.

The Priesthood of the Church is modeled after the Priesthood of Jesus, not after his gender. The Priesthood is all about Christ, not about a male person. It is about the sacrifice of his human body, not his male body. It is about his offering of himself, his spirit as well as his body, on Calvary and none of this has anything to do with the fact that he was a male. Gender had nothing to do with the Priesthood of Christ; therefore, it seems obvious that Jesus would not exclude anyone from the Priesthood of the Church based on gender. Our human process should be concerned with morality and goodness and faithfulness and knowledge of God’s Word and all of the other qualities of Christ that people need in a Priest of the Church. Certainly there are some women who should not be ordained because they don’t possess these qualities just as there are men who should not be ordained for the same reasons. There is no evidence that Jesus ever intended that gender be one of the reasons that the mantle of Priesthood be denied.

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Susan Bowman, the “LadyFather” has written a book on her experiences in the ordained ministry.  Aptly named “Lady Father,” it is now available for purchase on Amazon.com.  Fill out the form below to receive her newsletter and important emails and don’t forget to check out Susan’s Facebook page at http://facebook.com/ladyfather.


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Christmas Blessings

Dear friends,

It’s been a while since I’ve posted on here and it’s only because of one thing – I have been working like crazy to get the manuscript to an editor because – are you ready for this???  I have a publisher!!!

It’s true!  I got an email from a publisher – it may have even been spam!! – inviting me to send in a query package.  I read through it and realized that this was not a self-publisher and I liked the in-depth questionnaire and its emphasis on marketing with a clear program of what I would be expected to do and what help they would provide.  There was no upfront outlay of my funds required and it all just felt good after I had filled out their forms. They said I should hear something in 6-8 weeks and if I hadn’t heard by then to assume that they thought I’d be a better fit with another publisher. (Isn’t that a sweet way to put a rejection?)

So I sent off a prayer and clicked send on the email with its precious cargo.  Four days later I got a phone call from one of their representatives asking me if I was serious about publishing my book and how close it was to being finished.  I almost fell out of my chair!  Four days – not four weeks!  And there was no “well, maybe we’d be interested” or “we’re considering this” – the guy told me if I was willing to move forward, it was just about a done deal.  They still have final refusal if they decide they don’t like the final manuscript but this guy told me that his boss had never done an over-ride on one of his choices – except for one Dr. Jekyll/Mr Hyde character that turned into the alter ego when he talked to the boss and he didn’t like him.

I told him – don’t worry – what you see now is what he and everyone else will ever get – I am the real thing and I don’t play.  He liked that and I liked him – when we hung up, he told me that his job now was to cajole, push, prod, bully, encourage, and basically do whatever it took to keep me motivated and my only job is to get a completed manuscript to him as soon as possible.

That’s where I’ve been for the past few months – I was working on it at the time but had to ratchet it up a few notches as I found several parts at the end that weren’t anywhere near complete – a fact that had completely slipped my mind.  I called my editor who has evaluated the first part of the book, absolutely loves it, and was waiting for me to call back.  She said she would have the time to do the edit if I could get it to her within the next week because her family was coming for Christmas and they had already laid down the law about her needing a vacation.  So I wrote like mad and I made it.

She has it and will have it ready in a week so I can do the final changes and get it to the publisher, hopefully by the 2nd week in January.  I can hardly believe this is happening – this has been my dream for so long that I keep pinching myself to see if I’m still dreaming!  Well, it hurts when I do that so I’m not dreaming!

My big job now while I’m waiting for the edited manuscript is to put together a marketing plan that has to be submitted with the manuscript – once they approve everything, we sign the contract and they say the book will be printed immediately and guess what then???  You get to buy it!  And tell all your friends to buy it!!  And tell all your enemies to buy it – heck just tell anybody anywhere – that’s what I need – the proverbial and never-failing word-of-mouth promotion program.

I have to say – I am so grateful to all of you who have weighed in here and those who have emailed me and to all my family and friends – your encouragement and kind words have kept me going and going and going . . .I really do feel like the Energizer Bunny of the Computer Keyboard – I just type and type and type and type – well you get the picture.

So, you must be wondering about the Christmas Blessings, which is the title of this blog.  So, here’s my thing about blessings – they are gifts and they can come from anywhere.  Here are my Christmas Blessings:

1. I am blessed by the gift from the God of the Universe who loved me enough to give me the wondrous gift of being able to communicate my feelings and beliefs through simple words.

2. I am blessed by the gift from the God of the Universe who loved me (and all of you) enough to give me a Savior, who in turn loved me enough to hang on a cross, suffer, and die for me.

3. I am blessed by the opportunity to stop and celebrate the birth of my Savior with all my faith singing loud and clear “Joy to the World, the Lord is come!”

4. I am blessed by the opportunity to stop and celebrate this sacred moment within the love of my family and friends, and I am particularly blessed that my son and family are staying home this year!

5. I am blessed by all who believe in me and are genuinely happy that I have finally finished this labor of love.

4. I am blessed by the stupendous gift of an editor who loves my book and a publisher who is excited about getting my book out into the world where everybody else who will love my book will buy it!

5. I am blessed by something that feels like a combination of courage, insanity, confidence, cockeyed optimism, and a whole lot of faith.  This blessing has resulted in my resignation from the “day job” at AAA, where I had become increasingly unhappy and stressed out and has me in front of my computer at home full-time.  I am waiting for all the blessings that I know will be coming from my websites and freelance writing jobs!!

6. My blessing for you all is that God will continue to shower blessings on you as we approach the Christmas season and start a new year.  May you enjoy all the blessings of the season with your family and friends.

So keep watching – very soon you’ll be getting the big Publication Announcement and you’ll be able to tell everybody – I have this friend who wrote a book . . . .

Merry Christmas to you all and may the year to come be filled with blessings from everybody and everywhere, but especially from our loving and generous God.

Susan+

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As you can tell, Susan Bowman, the “LadyFather” has written a book on her experiences in the ordained ministry.  Aptly named “Lady Father,” it is now available for purchase on Amazon.com.  Register below to receive her newsletter and important emails and don’t forget to check out Susan’s Facebook page at http://facebook.com/ladyfather.


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