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Midwives of an Unnamed Future

How long must the church wait before it joins the world that is spinning?

I've been doing a lot of reflecting lately about midwives. Perhaps it's because a friend just had an adorable baby girl. I suppose part of the reason is that I am in my own transition time. I’ll post more about that later, but this theme of midwives keeps coming up for me.

The theme of being a midwife in ministry isn't new. When I was at the Monastery of St. Gertrude many years ago for a clergy group meeting, I bought a book entitled, “Midwives of an Unnamed Future: Spirituality for Women in Times of Unprecedented Change.” It sat on my shelf for many months after I returned until I was perusing through my shelves and it popped out at me. It was a profound God moment. This book is one I come to again and again. I even have used the premises of the book for the whole congregation's discernment. A midwife is a person who is a steadfast encourager in the birthing process, but also the truth-teller – the person who doesn’t sugarcoat the birthing process (it's damn painful!), but does what needs to be done so the mother and baby are safe.

Last September, my District Superintendent invited clergy at a Zoom gathering (every gathering is on Zoom lately), to write breath prayers. The prayer that has stuck with me is this:

“Midwife God... birth ____ (hope, love, change, faith...).”

Sometimes I change out the last word, although hope has been the most constant birthing adjective. What it helps me do, is to remind me that God's Spirit is active and working in the lost places within churches that are experiencing profound change. It focuses' my own pastor energy on the process of a congregation that is coming through into a new thing. I pray that I can be the person who helps a congregation focus - or at least find someone to help them focus if I cannot do that for them.

A Midwife Pastor

I suppose I see myself as a midwife for churches that are going through deep discernment and change. With that, has come an incredible gift of expressing God's radical hospitality as we celebrate with each other life's relationships. This is messy work. Sometimes it doesn't work out like we imagined it would be and we must birth something else. It means helping churches figure out ways not just to tolerate each other, but also living and breathing with the expectations that their own life will be blessed and enriched by those who are not like us.

It means being nimble when we get stuck in the muck (meconium anyone?) and messiness of life. It means growing legs and walking around with the church's vision statement. For United Methodists, it is “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Each church needs to figure out what that means for themselves - how they uniquely carry on this mission. It means actively sharing the unconditional love of God, connecting with God and each other, serving with gladness, and growing in our faith journey.

My role as a midwife pastor is to connect people to God and each other, to create opportunities for the congregation to birth hope in the community, and to midwife change within broken systems. I thrive on helping congregations re-discover their mission and creatively figure out how to utilize their resources. It doesn't always work, and a lot of congregations have faced so much change, that they struggle to even agree on a mission - even when one is given to them by the denomination!

But on the other side of the discernment tunnel, there is light and growth. While the landscape of the church as we know it has drastically changed over the last 21 years of my ministry time, my role as a midwife pastor has not. I still strive to birth hope, birth faith, birth love, and birth disciples of Jesus at the churches I serve.


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