Archives For Jennie Barber

Ministry in the Mess

Jennie Barber —  March 6, 2014

JBarberOne by one they come forward. To each one, I repeat the same words, “You are dust and to dust you shall return.” It would be easy to do this mechanically, reaching my thumb into the messy remains of last year’s palm branches, imprinting a cross on forehead after forehead. But this isn’t a drive-thru repentance ritual—“one cross of ashes and a confession on the side.” As I think about the words I say and the sign I make every year at Ash Wednesday, I find myself thinking about dust, ministry and what it all means as we enter this Lenten season.

The annual corporate acknowledgment of our brokenness and our mortality with the tangible sign of ashes isn’t something Presbyterians have been doing for ages. I remember one of my seminary professors expressing his deep theological objection to it. I’m not writing to argue for or against Ash Wednesday services. I’m writing because I believe the reminder of our “dustiness”, our human messiness and brokenness, is a gift for those of us following God’s call in pastoral ministry. We may don shiny robes; we may preach eloquent words; we may intercede with beautiful prayers. But my short time in pastoral ministry has shown me that God works in and through us not just in these circumstances, but in the dust and mire. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Holy moments happen in the dust: I can’t remember any of the words I’ve said or prayed in hospital rooms or moments before a funeral service. I remember standing with families in silence as tears were shed. I remember knowing the best thing I could do was find tissue. I remember holding shaky hands. All these memories are of raw and dusty moments. But they are also memories of holy moments because in them I sensed God’s presence and the comfort of the Holy Spirit in ways I never expected. Human frailty, human grief, human pain—God meets us here. Continue Reading…

JBarberConfession: I’ve been guilty of bad stewardship. I’ve repeatedly squandered a gift I receive from the church I’m serving…that is until recently. Continuing education was something that always sounded like a good idea. I’d hear about fantastic conferences my friends attended and think, “It would be great to learn more about family systems in the context of the church, but I’m so busy I’ll just re-read Edwin Friedman and call it good.” But a couple of weeks ago, my attitude and actions with respect to continuing education changed. I didn’t find one amazing conference that transformed my perspective. Rather, I discovered my bad stewardship was causing me to miss out on some wonderful opportunities and experiences. Here’s what I learned about why we should be good stewards of continuing education and how to embrace it for all it’s worth.

1. S.S.R.: Sustained silent reading featured prominently in my early education. As a bookworm, 15 to 20 minutes focused solely on reading was a treasure. Most of the pastors I know love reading. Most pastors I know have a giant stack of books with crisp new pages on their shelves. Continuing education provides time for S.S.R. It doesn’t guarantee we will get through every book we’ve wanted to read, but it gives us time to take the plunge and open the first page. Continue Reading…

What’s On Your Legal Pad?

Jennie Barber —  January 23, 2014

JBarberA Bible. A robe. A stole. A chalice. A yellow legal pad. Among many other things, these are the tools of pastoral ministry. While I’d like to believe the B-i-b-l-e is like my hammer, in reality, my hammer is the yellow legal pad. And I know the same is true for many pastors. (Side note: even though most of the kids in my youth group have one, I’m still not cool enough for an iPad.) Flip through any pastor’s legal pad and you may find our notes from books we’re reading, or our doodles from long meetings. What you will always find is a to-do list. It’s a constant, no matter if it reminds us to finish our sermon or finish our superhero costume for the youth group skating party. To-do lists and the legal pads that house them keep me focused and move me forward when YouTube videos of hamsters on pianos threaten to suck me in. But in this recent season of my life, I’ve been re-thinking the endless to-do lists that guide me.

My re-thinking started when I found myself again turning to the Psalms in prayer. My own words were failing me; I was stumbling, grasping, and longing. I opened my Bible to Psalm 27. In 2002, I memorized this psalm, but 2002 seemed like another life. The last verse of Psalm 27 reads,

“Wait for the LORD; be strong and let your heart take courage;

wait for the LORD!”

Continue Reading…