I wanted to write something up on the 166 Georgia Regional Assembly. Especially since I was sitting in worship, and decided that was not the place to tweet pithy, but moving, comments. This is your Regional Assembly. We are anchored to the Georgia Region. (Whether you are from Michigan, Tennessee, Kalamazoo or Georgia. This is your Assembly.) In all honesty, as any church begins to incorporate a digital footprint, their identity will be more symbolically tied to a specific region.
Anyway, I was thinking of what to write that spoke specifically to my experience as both a digital and physical pastor. (I fill in at various churches on Sunday. I spend a large amount of time at a specific church: Community Christian Church. To be honest, many of us live this double life.)
I realized, as my daughter played monkey in my lap during dinner Friday night, I had something very specific to discuss. It's a topic many can relate to without being a congregant here, or even a Disciple of Christ. I want to discuss being a mother, and being a minister.
It was Saturday afternoon. The business meeting had just let out, and people were going to their respective places for lunch. Specifically, the men were going to the Disciple's Men's meeting. The women were going to the Disciple's Women's Meeting. Everyone who hadn't paid for their ticket was going out to eat. I had a women's DoC ticket, so I grabbed the kids and we waited in line to get our food. The plan was to talk with the women from Community Christian Church. One of the congregants had saved a seat for me and everything. The only problem was, I had two kids with me. Even if they could have saved three seats, the small round tables were too small.
I apologized to the congregant, taking my things to move to an empty table in the corner. After sitting down my son remarked, "Are there any men here at all!" I sighed deeply. I knew this was going to be a struggle. "No," I replied. This is a Disciple's Women meeting. "I don't want to be here! I'm a boy! Let me go to the guy meeting with [insert the male congregant he knew from Community]." Attempting to rub my face off in frustration, I replied, "No. He is not your responsibility. I am. You are not going to him."
I looked at the chicken nuggets on his plate. They were special for the kids in the room. I wondered, did the Men's DoC meeting have them too, or were we still living in a world where all children stayed with the females? I looked down, where the men were gathering in an enclosed Pavilion. They nonchalantly were laughing and conversing. At the time I couldn't tell.
After sitting down my daughter spilled her drink all over the table. There were two ladies sitting with us, and as the drink spread over the fabric tablecloth, I apologized over and over to the two women. "It's okay," the responded, "You are a mother. It happens." I knew this was the official socially acceptable response. I was completely embarrassed, as I pulled the tablecloth back in front of my daughter, so she would have a dry place to eat.
The meeting continued, and my son was getting restless. He knew he was out of place. In the opposite corner a group of children sat with their chicken nuggets. I already knew what Rev. Betty Brewer-Calvert (the head of Women's ministries for the state of Georgia) would say about my children. They were welcome, distractions and all. The problem was, my son didn't feel comfortable, and wouldn't feel comfortable. He kept asking to leave. Giving up, I took them out.
Taking my daughter's new drink, we went downstairs to the well. The well was a sunken in area set up like a mini-indoor amphitheater. Mandala's had been set up for prayerful contemplation. I gave the kid's crayons and told them to color. A few minutes later, I realized my daughter hadn't drunk hardly anything since lunch. I asked her to go to her drink and take a sip. In slow motion I watched her move her foot across the drink, and watched it fall into the well.
Running to the bathroom I grabbed a ton of paper towel. Sopping up the mess I thought, "Please don't let a member of this church see what I'm doing. Please don't let a member of this church see what I'm doing." Like I was calling their name a member of church rounded the corner and glared at me. Not a word was shared. No help was given. She continued walking down the hall.
"I give up," I mumbled. Leaning back, I watched the Men's meeting concluding. Most were laughing and patting each other on the back. I too wanted to be chatting it up and laughing. Taking the kids upstairs, I wanted to take a breath, but one of the ministers looked at me, "Stole up!"
I had completely forgotten. The ministers were entering worship in twenty minutes with their stoles. Also, I was in worship, and they were getting ready to pray. I had to get the kids back to their programs, get to my car for my stole, and get back in time to at least make the prayer! Gathering my children back up I began the process.
Just as I was headed downstairs to drop the kids off, a hand gently landed on my back. Turning around was Rev. Jamie Brame. I had been looking for him all weekend. "Oh, Jamie!" I must have looked as exasperated as I sounded, "I really want to talk." This was complete truth. "I can't. I have to run." This was also true. We shared about 15 seconds of a quick "Nice to see you," and I was running the kids downstairs. Then I was running upstairs and out the doors. By the time I was back upstairs with my stole, they were just ready to pray. Rev. Roger Sizemore whispered in my ear, "Rev. Denise was asking for you." (Rev. Denise Bell is the Georgia Regional Minister.) Making eye contact with Denise, I nodded my head, and she nodded hers. Our secret dialogue was complete, and she had nothing to fear. (I already knew what she wanted, and she knew I knew.) Then we prayed. I made it. Somehow, I made it.
There were a few things going into this Assembly I wanted:
I might have come home disheartened that people saw me struggling with two kids, but I had an example myself. That example was there, at the assembly. Also, this example might surprise you, because the example is male. Leading Soul Fire during the closing worship, Rev. Jeff Shimizu played the guitar. He did not "stole up," but he is ordained. Back about a decade ago he had two boys that hung from his arms. They were messy, and distracting. He handled them with grace. I'm sure there were congregants that gave their own glares at his boys, as Jeff tried to lead Saturday worship and be a parent.
The boys were there too. All grown up, one was on drums and the other watched in a seat. In a world where their age group is avoiding church, his participate. Jeff, in a very real way, was and is a pastoral parent. So, I'm glad I was there with my kids. Maybe some day there will be another Pastoral Parent, struggling to juggle ministry and children. Maybe they will see my kids, all grown up and realize there is something sacred about the messy, and distracting.