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So what is she doing up a ladder?

Margaret on ladder

Margaret Fraser is serving as Interim Pastoral Minister of West Richmond Friends Meeting, in Indiana. She reports on the first couple of weeks:

I t has been intense. On my first Sunday I gave the message on John 1: 1-19 and was welcomed with a pitch-in / potluck meal and cake. I have visited people, have attended several committee meetings, been to worship at Richmond Friends School and have made contact with the local ministerial association. I also want to participate in events at Bethany Seminary and Earlham School of Religion, so that people there get to know me, and to be able to invite them to meeting. Yesterday I was up at 5:00 a.m. to go to the hospital to sit with someone who had emergency surgery. In the evening I worked on my second message, based on John 2: 1-11. This sounds pretty typical for a pastoral minister – though not many are welcomed with two cakes, one decorated with the meeting’s mission statement.

So what is she doing up a ladder? There is nothing in the job description of an intentional interim minister that says she should be up a stepladder ripping wallpaper off the office walls, but the thing about having an interim pastor is that there is always the unexpected. I didn’t plan to do this; it was almost as if the wallpaper, up for at least 23 years and peeling at the edges, was asking to be removed. And as if the walls were asking to breathe and be beautiful. They will be, once they are painted Lemon Grass and Eider White. Some people who have come to the office have looked a little shocked to see black bags of stripped-off paper and bare plaster. Others, some of whom have stopped by to help, can see beyond that, to the beautiful space and comfortable chairs that will materialize, and the place of hospitality that will emerge.

My approach to organizational change, and to intentional interim ministry, is quite organic. Some people probably approach it in a more linear and systematic way, but I don’t think that approach would fit with Quaker culture.  I am doing the outward work of making the office beautiful, and changing it from the “Pastor’s Study” – though the historic sign on the door will remain – to a place of hospitality where creative ideas flourish, and cups of tea and coffee are enjoyed. I also find that doing something physical like this makes the changes that swirl around in my head more real. And of course, up a ladder, focusing on one thing, rather than multi-tasking with the phone and computer, is a great time for new ideas to come to me.

My first message, called Stand up and be counted, focused on whether Jews, Christians and Muslims worship the same God. It was prompted by the situation at Wheaton College, which has put Professor Larycia Hawkins on administrative leave for saying just this. Since I had planned to speak about the journey of change that the meeting will be taking this year, it was interesting that God gave me this very clear ‘other’ message to bring.

My second message, on a Sunday when we also mark the life, work and death of Dr. Martin Luther King and all those who have sacrificed in the struggle for racial justice, is based on the account in John’s Gospel, on Jesus’ first miracle at the marriage at Cana when he turned good water into good wine. We will be thinking about the miracles of God’s abundance and the power of transformation when we allow ourselves to be filled by the Holy Spirit. May it be so – in the meeting, in the city that is our corner of the world, and on the earth.