Clergy Killers

After worship service on Sunday, a kind and sweet spirited parishioner pulled me over to the side and said, "I heard your feelings were hurt. I heard about your article in the newsletter. Are you okay?”  I truly appreciated this person checking in with me!  Be assured that I am elated to be the pastor of St. John the Evangelist, and I am not hurt! Life is good! In my February 2018 newsletter, I attempted to express my realities as a parish priest, and I would venture to say the realities of many clergy in parish ministry.  Ordained ministry has its challenges. Let me give you an example since we are talking about it.

During my first semester in seminary at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, I took a pastoral care class. The reading syllabus took me by surprise. One of the books on the list was called Clergy Killers: Guidance for Pastors and Congregations under Attack by G. Lloyd Rediger.  (My copy is on my office bookshelf) A video series has been produced since the book came out in 1997. If you would like to see the trailer go to The title of the documentary/series is Clergy Killers: 'Toxic' Congregations Lead to Widespread Job Loss. The second required reading was called Nasty People: How to Stop Being Hurt by Them Without Becoming One of Them by Jay Carter.  Really? Who would have thought! I wanted to pack my apartment and withdraw from seminary, but I had already answered the call to ordained ministry, left my job, sold my home and furniture, and had moved to Rochester, NY to begin seminary.  

We live in a broken and fallen world, and unfortunately there exist congregants that seek the demise of parish clergy. Sometimes it is an unsolicited “picking a fight” when nothing has been said or done against the “killer". In the secular world people are fired when they behave badly and destructively in the workplace environment. In the Church no one can get fired because everyone is a volunteer, however, a person might be asked to leave a ministry. Where else in the world can a person(s) blatantly and publicly disrespect a clergy person through words, actions, sabotaging, and continue abrasive behaviors until the clergy person's spiritual, emotional, psychological, and physical health decline, and a congregation's morale declines and congregants leave the church? You guess it...the Church.  I read about this in seminary, so I am not making this up. It is a harsh reality for all of us to understand and our responsibility to stop it when clergy killing begins to occur. 

Clergy said to God "yes, here I am" in hopes of serving God's people, consecrating the elements, and leading the people in mission and ministry. Many clergy sold homes, moved families, quit jobs, relocated to strange and new places, lost old friendships and relationships, navigated through the ordination process, and accepted pay cuts to led parishes--a great deal of sacrifice to serve God and to preach the Gospel.  Notice we did not say, "yes, here we are, abuse us because we are an easy target for misplaced aggression.” 

Take some time this Lent to pray for all clergy around the world who are confronted by clergy killers.  


Who is the Declaration For?

Reading church marquees is an interesting experience for me. Why do we state what should be an expectation? I am especially drawn to marquees that make declarations: “Welcoming”, “Embracing Diversity”, “Loving All God’s People”, and “Open to All”.  Read some church marquees the next time you are driving around. And as you do, ask yourself the following question; are these declarations of the Church’s characteristics reminders for the church’s regular worshipers or possibly declarations to the new comer in case they experience something contrary to the marquee.  

Bottom-line: Our behaviors and actions speak for themselves.  In God's house people should expect and experience the above declarations.  Therefore, who is the declaration for?  


It's not Entertainment Anymore

As I drove in to work this morning, I saw a homeless white middle age man walking across the street wrapped in a dirty red sleeping bag. It was not funny.  He has become a permeant fixture on N.E Sandy Blvd.

Many of us remember watching Otis Campbell on the Andy Griffith show. 
"Oh, he is funny! Oh, here come Otis again!"  It was entertaining, and society approved because the show ran forever.  The Otis character remained. The same applies for other television shows that portrayed the town drunk and homeless person as the norm. Well guess what?  Look at the increased homeless population in Portland. It isn't funny anymore. It never was.



Kindness is Love with its Work Boots On

Riddle me this. How is it so easy for us to separate kindness and love? Is it possible for us to be kind to someone without feeling love for them? Is it possible for us to love someone, but not show them kindness? The short answer to the latter two questions is tricky, but most would answer yes to both.

Think about this for a moment-people who identify as liberal love their country just as much as any conservative. However, some liberals who love the United States might not be so kind to those from the opposing party- not because they know them as individuals or have listened to their stance on any particular issue, but because they believe that individual can in no way be correct because of who they voted for in the last election. The same goes with some conservatives views on liberals. What should be a discussion turns into a heated debate and ends with the liberal being called a “hippie” or “snowflake”. None of this is fair. None of this accomplishes anything.

I took a  moment while writing this to reflect on the shutdown that occurred this past weekend. Trump took to twitter, democrats blamed republicans, and republicans blamed democrats. There was name calling and there was nastiness. The very real media broke down the “winners and losers” from both sides-and the world watched as the trend of us tearing each other apart continued. What a lot of folks fail to realize is there are no “winners and losers” in situations like these. You can disagree with someone and still show them kindness and love. I am getting married in t-minus 9 months and I couldn’t imagine loving him, but not being kind to him. Showing him kindness, but not loving him for the individual he individual with his own thoughts and feelings.

I began this piece by asking you three questions… I said most would answer yes to the latter two and that is perfectly fine-- But when it comes to the first question “How is it so easy for us to separate kindness and love?”, my answer is very simple…It shouldn’t be. Sometimes you just have to put your work boots on in order to build lasting, loving, and thoughtful relationships.


Don't Believe What They Say

I wonder what Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr would say today about the state of our country.  The state of our churches.  My seminary journey began at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity in Rochester, New York.  Rev. Dr. King was a student at Crozer Divinity School before it merged with Colgate Rochester.  The rumor among the students was Dr. King received a "C" in homiletics (preaching) and that he was told by the homiletics professor that he would never be a great preacher.  I wonder if that professor is spinning in his grave.  When I sat in the seminary library, I would look up at Dr. King's oil portrait and say to him as if he would respond, "How did you do it? How did you make it through so much hatred in the world?"

Rev. Dr. King taught me that a human being cannot believe the negative perceptions people have of you.  People are going to think what they are going to think, especially if the person has been taught to hate another human being because of the color of their skin, and to quote Dr. King, and "not the content of their character."  I believe people can change and do change.  In the meantime we must stand firm in believing who God has called us to be, and surround ourselves with people who are affirming, positive, and supportive.

Maya Angelou once said, "You are the sum total of everything you've ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot--It's all there everything influences each of us. And because of that I try to make sure that all my experiences are positive."

Rev. Dr. King showed us that we have control on how we respond to what people say about us. This week take a few minutes to honor a great man who changed the world.



Pastoral Response Concerning St. Stephen's

Dear Friends,

I was saddened and frightened by the violent act that occurred at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church yesterday.  I am grateful that no one was injured and that the perpetrator was apprehended.  Hopefully he will receive the assistance that he desperately needs. It is clear to me that our parish is moving in the right direction by addressing with the Portland Police Department the issues of church violence, and understanding individuals within the homeless population who struggle with mental illness and drug addiction.

Please know we are exercising due diligence practices that help cultivate a safe environment for everyone who uses our building. However, we cannot do that alone.  We ask that you help us maintain a safe environment by; securing doors, returning keys that were issued to you and you no longer participate in the ministry or need access to the building; and always be mindful of your surroundings when you enter and leave the building. 

God did not give us a spirit of fear, and we are required to use our common sense and wisdom.


Rev. Dr. Deborah R. Brown

Don't Worry Yourself

I decided not to make any new resolutions. Why? Because by March I don't follow through with the resolution, then I feel guilty and bad about myself and the resolution. We worry about losing 50 lbs., and exercising 6 days a week. The list goes on. Think of the ones you created.  Did you worry about fore filling the resolution and became obsessive to the point that you eventually gave up

I decided to follow what Jesus said in Matthew 6:25-34

 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?  And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin,  yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’  For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Live for today. What choices can I make for today that will impact the outcome that I want tomorrow?  I guess what I am saying is don't worry, take it one day at a time.


It's Okay to Take a Break

Burn out occurs in every profession. I don't care how superhuman we think we are, everyone needs a little time away to reflect, and "chill-out". I bring this up because I am taking time to chill-out and to renew.  Time off for physicians, surgeons, and nurses is mandatory.  Would you want an ER surgeon who has worked over 12 hours straight without a break operating on you? I didn't think so. The same with clergy.  Can we really do effective ministry if we are tired and drained? Nope. Like surgeons, we need breaks too.  Congregants, urge your clergy to take their vacations, and small "mental health" breaks. And clergy, remember congregants can live without you for several days, and they don't want to live with you when you haven't had a break.

I'm taking my break. Peace.


The Power of This, That and Those

The demonstrative pronouns "this, that and those" used within the context of the Church can be hurtful, alienating, and potentially stymie individual and communal opportunities to participate in the advancement of the Kingdom of God. This could be especially true when we are referring to different cultural, ethnic, economic, and social contexts.  So often I have heard Christians say, "We don't sing that type of music here!"  I have heard "we don't what those people in our church!"  I have heard declared with passion and fervor over, over, and over again, "This is the way we do that here!" 

When I hear these responses, I say to myself, "Wow, this is the Church? I understand why people stay home on Sunday mornings and why possibly the Church is in decline." When I think about my cultural context, I often think "this, that and those" is talking about me as an African American woman and all that I bring. I guess I would stay home too. Who wants to feel not welcomed for all their richness, be rendered invisible, and denied the opportunities to bring their gifts and talents to the table?

What is the real story behind "this, that and those"?  Are we ashamed of saying what we are really thinking and feeling? Are we truly saying we don't want homeless people in our churches during worship?  Are we really saying we don't want ethnic music in our worship service?  Are we saying we don't want poor people or marginalized people in our worship service?  Are there hidden issues of racism, prejudice, and power underneath our comments and stances?  Is it possible "this, that and those" are pointing to the people that we really don't want in our churches? Are we alienating ourselves from a broken and hurting world and the very people who need unconditional love and to be embraced by a Christian community? Tough questions, huh?  Honestly, are we really picking and choosing who is in, and who is out? If that is true, may the coming Christ bring light to such darkness in our hearts, and avail opportunities for truth telling and confrontation.  There is hope.


"Go to the Source"

As a Thanksgiving tradition, I hang Christmas lights around our front house windows.  At the end of the season, I roll up the lights and put them in the box labeled "lights." Last year every strand of lights worked except for one set. This year when I went to the box, two additional strand of lights did not work. I did not want to purchase new lights this year so I began to investigate the strand of lights to determine where the problem existed. 

I plugged in one set of lights and saw that it would work but it kept blinking on and off. I sat down and pushed in each light bulb because I noticed several of them were loose in its socket.  After pushing in each light bulb firmly, the strand of lights remained on. Victory! I grabbed the other set of lights and began the same process of investigation. The problem was different this time.  This time I noticed something different. Some of the sockets were missing light bulbs!  Oh, possibly this strand of lights was not working because some lights were missing. Could my theory be true? Yes, I found extra light bulbs and placed them firmly in the vacant sockets, and behold the strand of lights shone brightly!  

This week I was installed as the rector of St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church. What a joyous event! It has been my personal experiences from working with churches in congregational development, a parish priest, and working at the diocesan level in Rochester, NY that gossip, rumors, miscommunication, hurt feelings, and sabotaging creates challenges on everyone, and puts a damper on parish ministry. Like the strand of lights, it only takes a few light bulbs to create challenges for the complete strand of lights. I believe the only opportunity to eliminate the issues above, especially “hearsay", is to do what I did with our strands of light...go to the source.  The source being me because I might have the answer you are looking for instead of assuming the answer, and  creating “blinking lights." I believe going to the source is important because we are here to shine as lights of Jesus Christ.


Stubborn or Hardheaded

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When I was a child, my grandmother warned me not to touch the burner on the stove because I would get burned.  She warned me not to aggravate the neighbor’s dog by sticking my finger in the chain-linked fence.  You know the outcome when I didn’t listen to her. We have all done just the opposite of what we were warned and told not to do.  The zoos warn people not to climb over the fence or feed the animals, and people continue to fall into animal dens and get killed. (Unfortunately, the animal is killed because the human did not follow instructions)

When we don’t follow instructions and heed warnings, we cause hurt to ourselves and to other people.  It is bewildering to me that when we receive warnings from people, we often continue to do what we want to do.  I think we all can be stubborn about certain issues; however, when stubbornness leads to demolishing relationships and augments the potential for more violence and conflict, then we possibly have to ask ourselves, “am I being stubborn or being hard- headed.”   

May hardheadedness be converted to compassionate and peaceful hearts: Pray for peace in the birth place of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 

The Brokenness of Humanity

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Several days ago, the church received an email from an anonymous writer and bogus email address.  The message read “I am very upset that two services are not being offered. I will be contacting higher powers. I guess thats why blacks shouldn't run churches."  I bring this darkness to light and decided to talk about it because this person's cowardly actions remind us of the brokenness of humanity. The reality is no one is immune to hatred. Unfortunately, as an African American woman from Charlotte, NC, I experience, understand, and deal with racism, bigotry, prejudice, and the effects of white privilege daily.  This is not my first rodeo. On a daily basis, I as well as other minorities experience micro-aggressions that are similar to the process of "death by a thousand cuts".  

If you are saying to yourself, "this shouldn't happen in the church!" I suggest you move on and put your focus on Jesus Christ.   In the words of a dear friend who is an Episcopal priest, "The Church is perfect; the people in it are not."  We do not know if the email came from within the congregation or not. The point is we are all broken people, and I think evil prevails when we act on our brokenness in ways that hurt other people.  Our brokenness comes from many places; painful and abusive childhoods, abrasive relationships, fear of the other, greed, jealously, missed opportunities, regret.  I could list a million things but I think you get my point.  We come to St. John the Evangelist to worship God, and to stand together like we did last Sunday to say racist comments and behaviors are not allowed and will not be tolerated in our church. If you need healing, and hope look to Jesus Christ, because hatred is not the way.

 I am proud of St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church. And in the words of Mr. T from the television show A-Team, "I pity the fool" who sent that email because it is between that person and God.  God will take care of it.



"Thanksgiving" or "Thanks-taking"

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We give thanks this time of year for the many blessings we have been given. We eat too much and swear to never do it again. And for many of us, Thanksgiving is our most favorite holiday of the year. I believe we must also remember that Thanksgiving is also "thanks-taking." Even though Native people in the country helped the early settlers and kept them from starving to death in the wilderness, the same settlers and future Americans took their land and killed many Native people--those who now live on Reservations.  I believe that as we give thanks, we should also reflect on those who suffered and have less reason to say "Happy Thanksgiving."


Rev. Dr. Deborah R. Brown, Pastor

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

I wish the answer to that question was simple.  Why did slavery happen to good people? Why did the Holocaust happen to good people? Why was the taking of Native American land justifiable?  Why does gun violence continue to take the lives of innocent people? Why are innocent people killed drunk drivers? Why are good people continually robbed by cyber criminals on the internet? Why are good students bullied at school?  Why does racism and prejudice continue to affect the lives of good people? I could go over forever with examples. When people ask me why God lets bad things happen to good people, I often ask how we may have prevented the bad thing from happening.  I believe we put a great deal of responsibility on God when we have the capabilities to prevent most of the problems humanity faces today.  I wonder if the question might be posed a different way. Why do we let bad things happen to anyone, and what can we- individually and communally do?

Rev. Dr. Deborah Brown, Pastor

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Pastoral Letter Concerning Texas Shooting

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I do not have the words to convey my sorrow and pain created by the senseless deaths of twenty- five people, and the fifteen-to-twenty wounded during the shooting within First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas. This horrible act of violent reminds us that we live in a broken and fallen world, and that sacred worship spaces are not immune to gun violence. We shall continue to worship without fear and suspicion, and as a congregation have conversations about church safety.

Let us pray for First Baptist Church members, the pastor and his family, their community, those left behind, and yes, even the lost soul-the perpetrator. May we discern a way to extend our love and compassion to First Baptist Church at this troubling time.

Yours in Christ,

Rev. Dr. Deborah Brown, Pastor