27 March 13 // Interview with EveryDayImPastorin

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Editor’s Note: EverydayImPastorin is a Tumblr site that has been making the rounds at seminaries across the country. Very much like TheologyRyanGosling, it serves the function of creating space for seminarians to laugh – at themselves, as much as the idiosyncrasies of local churches. These sites, who see their highest views and shares during final exams, have caught on because they present a shared experience and normalize our thoughts and behaviors.

Tanya Riches, a fan of the site, recently chatted with the host who has asked to remain anonymous. While we at The SEMI prefer not to include anonymous articles, we also recognize that there are times when the nature of art and religion can sometimes be too revealing, that discussing the sacred and the profane simultaneously can have terminal professional consequences – historically, excommunication; traditionally, cries of heresy; currently, needling questions of devotion to God.

It is in this light that we publish the interview, knowing that you will understand and relate.

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What prompted you to start EverydayImPastorin?

Basically, sitting with two Ph.D. student friends, enjoying the Tumblr TheTimeIStudiedAbroad and thinking that there could be, should be a comparable blog for ministry. The gif format offered some really hilarious things to do, and I found myself describing a ministry situation for nearly every one of them. That, with some goofy riffs on the song Every Day I’m Shufflin’ and the whole thing was born.

When I look at the clips, sometimes up to 100 people have reblogged your posts. Do you know how many people read it?

I don’t, actually. There’s no real way to trace what gets shared on Facebook and Twitter, but I do know that the blog has around 2,200 followers on Tumblr. That’s totally crazy to me.

My husband and I are both pastors – he is currently in youth ministry, and I was a worship pastor in Australia before coming to Fuller. We adore your site. After watching 100 or more of these clips, we want to know who is posting? We’ve been speculating if you’re female/male, gay/straight, old/young, perceived as conservative/liberal … can you give us any clues as to your identity so I can judge which of the two of us is more perceptive?

Well, I receive a lot of submissions, so that can affect what gets published. I also take suggestions from friends. I can’t offer much about my identity for publication, because I’m pretty sure that if my congregation got wind that this was my blog, they might flay me alive, or something not-so-fun like that. Alternatively, the defenestration of the pastor, if you will.

I will say that I’m young, and a progressive pastor in a very conservative place. Many of my friends from seminary know that the blog is mine, and I’ve shared it on a person-by-person basis.

Do any of your church members know you post anonymously?

Absolutely not! I don’t even post entries from the blog on my Facebook where they can see, lest they get an inkling that it’s me.

Some of the clips epitomize secret thoughts I and many people I know have had as pastors. Do you get much feedback about the site? And what do people say?

I’ve gotten feedback from places as near as my home state and from as far as England and Iceland. There have been some negative comments, such as “Please don’t rip on rural congregations,” or, my personal favorite – “Orthodoxy fail” when commenting on my support for LGBT pastors. I sometimes want to reply to things like that, drawing clear lines between social and theological positions. Mostly, I take the positive comments – there are a lot – and leave the negative ones.

As for the similar experiences, that’s what strikes me about this whole thing and the way that it’s reached so many people – turns out we have a lot of common experiences, regardless of culture or denomination, or church structure. As hard as a pastor’s life can be, it’s great to realize that we’re not alone. Our congregations have some crazy people, and turns out that pastors are pretty crazy, too – otherwise it’s doubtful that we’d put ourselves through so much that we do.

It’s kind of a pastiche of contemporary culture. Who are you thinking of when you’re uploading your posts? Who do you ‘create’ for?

It’s usually my goal to figure out which posts are common experiences. I get submissions and sometimes want to post things that are specific to my own life, but I avoid posting them if I think they won’t appeal to a lot of people. It’s shocking, however, how many experiences that you would think are specific to you are actually pretty widespread – like fixing toilets in your clergy collar, having someone burst into tears in a discussion over curtain color, or having a parishioner suddenly faint during your sermon. I want a variety of people to be able to enjoy the site – from seminarians, to pastors of all mainline denominations. I want Presbyterians, Episcopalians, United Methodists, Lutherans, and similar denominations to all have a place to come and play.

I often start with a theme or a recent experience and then search Tumblr for a gif that captures it. I’ll isolate an emotion associated with it, search Tumblr for that emotion (say, “nervous”) and do some looking around, or some more searches, until I can find one that most closely communicates what that experience was like. Alternatively, sometimes funny gifs on my Tumblr feed will remind me of experiences – so it sort of works both ways.

Do you think the visual element of the Tumblr is important to your audience? Why?

Absolutely. I like writing, but I figured that there are a lot of written blogs related to ministry, and I thought that the church universal needed something different – something short that they could quickly enjoy. Basically, I like to make people happy. I also have a very short attention span.

The incidence of burnout is so high in pastoral ministry. Do you think there is a need for pastors to have outlets to say some of the things you’ve visualized through your work?

Yes, yes, yes. Being able to vent my experiences this way has allowed me to laugh at them. I think it’s important to remember that the worst experiences in ministry – those that make us freak out, angry, or nervous – can be the best stories. Some people share theirs at the bar. I share mine on the Internet via gif … and also at the bar.

Do you think that the expectations of congregation members are fair? (Many of your posts are about managing the expectations that pastors submerge their personal views to listen to their congregants’ many problems including about their sex life despite being single; as well as manage to stay neutral while various political views are voiced) .. how do YOU manage the internal dissonance that you describe so well in your posts?

This may be wrong, but sometimes, knowing that it’ll make a great story later helps. There are some punches to the gut that I have to internalize – things that strike at issues close to my heart. For example, when a congregant calls all Democrats evil, I have to slowly steer them away from that as opposed to yelling at them for it. In some ways, I really wish that we could be more honest about who we are, but, living in such a conservative place, I know they wouldn’t trust me if they knew what I really thought about some things. I get a chance to gently share those things sometimes, however, showing them an alternative view. That makes things more worth it.

It’s about walking the fine line of keeping their trust and knowing when to share; it’s about staying true to ourselves while also valuing the opinions and experiences of our parishioners. As much as I want to, I can’t hold a parishioner who didn’t graduate high school and has never left this relatively rural place to the same standards that I’d hold an educated, well-traveled person. I also think it’s important to realize that the opinions and experience of each of those, and everyone in between, is valuable and important. All are children of God and deserve respect.

Can you speak to how you feel about denominational and sectarian labels that are brandied about for Christians, particularly pastors? How do you think young clergy/ministers feel about this in general? And do you think the labels ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ are breaking down at all?

I think that it’s important for church leaders to realize that “conservative” and “orthodox” do not mean the same thing, nor do “liberal” and “unorthodox.” Often, especially in my tradition, people get so hung up on the terms “liberal” and “conservative,” and using “conservative” and “orthodox” interchangeably. This is crazy to me. I’ve met people who were very unorthodox – denying original sin and the bodily resurrection – who were very socially conservative. Personally, I’m pretty liberal, but I subscribe fully and without reservation to the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds. While, to some, “orthodox” means more than the creeds, I think that we need to think more about these terms before tossing them around and substituting them for each other without thought or hesitation.

I’ve gotten some pushback because the blog clearly has a progressive or liberal slant, but that’s okay. There are a lot of things on the Internet for conservative Christians – I have no shame about providing a different view. I also hope that it serves as a witness for anyone who is feeling that they might have to leave the church because of their conscience-driven views on science and evolution, LGBT inclusion, or any number of issues. You don’t have to leave – not every Christian subscribes to Fox News, Pat Robertson, or even Joel Osteen. Trust me. There are alternatives – a huge part of my faith is these issues – flinging wide the church doors to everyone, embracing science and its discoveries instead of being insecure about them, etc.

One of the other issues you address quite frequently is the distance between youth and church leadership. Could you maybe explain this theme a little? What are the generational divides you’re picking up?

I would love it if older church leadership would stop talking about “young people” in clergy meetings without consulting us. I have been known to whisper loudly, “Psssst… they’re talking about us like we’re not here… Awkward…” I am usually then swiftly kicked under the table.

While no young clergyperson alone has all the answers, we know more about what our generation is hungering for, because many of us are hungering for the same things. I’ve often been frustrated by the feeling I get from older clergy that one has to be in the ministry so long before one can take a leadership role – and weirdly enough, that includes drafting plans about how to attract more young people. Young adult quotas and delegations are great, but I often feel as if we’re still at the kids’ table at Thanksgiving. Can young adults get real leadership roles, please, and have everyone stop patting themselves on the back for creating “young adult clergy groups” that they’ll consult before making the decisions themselves? I feel like older clergy are saying, “they’re so cute” to everything we suggest.

Besides, frankly, most of us are not really all that cute.

Do you have any ideas on how the denominational leadership *could* get in touch with what younger clergy and congregation members are thinking, other than reading your Tumblr and taking notes?

I’d love to see more young clergy in leadership roles. Not in advisory roles, but in actual leadership, where they’re viewed as equal voices, not merely consultants.

There’s also a lot of commentary on the difference in values between liberal Seminaries and rural America. Do you feel like your seminary education adequately prepared you for parish ministry?

Yes. I think the faculty of my seminary did a great job, and I think that a large part of that was having people on faculty and staff who had served rural conservative churches before.

Another theme I love in these clips is your commentary on liturgy. It’s funny because although I grew up in a contemporary worship setting, I’m fascinated with traditional liturgy, and I know many of my Pentecostal and Nondenominational friends feel the same. Do you think there is a movement towards a deeper understanding of liturgy, or do you think it’s still a small bastion of people trying to clutch onto something more profound than the latest Chris Tomlin song?

I feel liturgical renewal catching fire and has been for awhile. I’ve noticed Baptist churches in the city where I went to seminary advertising Advent and Lenten services, which we might never have seen only a few years ago. While it may be slow, I think that we’re seeing a renewal of liturgy – realizing that our ancestors in the faith really did create something worth keeping. I’m sort of obsessed with the church year, too – and I think that the latest Chris Tomlin song can easily be incorporated into a season, if we only listen for themes. Hope, and waiting for the Lord? Advent song. Penitence, lamenting sin, thanking God for forgiveness? Lenten song. Celebration, resurrection, defeating death? Easter.

I received a really good liturgical education that focused on themes over style, and that taught me to help the church service reflect who the particular congregation of people are. So, at my church, we follow the church year, and we use country/bluegrass and old hymns that are appropriate for each season. We have several talented banjo pickers, guitar, mandolin, and upright bass players, so they play during worship a lot. Turns out a lot of country and bluegrass lyrics talk about the kingdom to come, so they mostly play for All Saints’ and Advent. I think it’s less about imposing liturgy on the people, and more about helping liturgy to speak to them and who they are, where they are. It just takes a bit of creativity more than totally rigid thoughts of what liturgy has to be.

Thank you for your work, on behalf of all the seminary-trained introverted, awkward, young, single, popular, traditional pastors struggling with theological issues.

Thank you, from a seminary-trained, awkward, young, single, questionably popular, traditional pastor who’s always in a theological fight with myself!

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