Sunday, January 20, 2008


This morning at the Daniels Run Church* I heard the answer to some questions I hadn't yet asked.

And those were, what were their plans as to long-term or steady pastoral ministry? Were they thinking of hiring someone for longterm stated pulpil supply? And if so, would they consider looking at me?

They've been without a regular minister since November or so. As I understand it, up to then the Daniels Run Church was supplied by IrmaLou*, a student from Steelertown Presbyterian Seminary* (SPS). This past year she graduated and took her denominational ordination exams. While she waited for the results of her ords, she continued to serve the DRPC Church. I think the idea was that, once she passed and could be ordained, they'd call her to be their pastor, at least on a half-time basis.

But the PC(USA) exam results came out this fall, and IrmaLou had flunked one of them. Church polity (i.e., constitution and government), most likely. It usually is. And someone-- maybe the Committee on Ministry of the Presbytery South of Here, wouldn't let her sit for a retake until she'd gone back to SPS and taken a class or another class on it (It is possible to get through seminary and your ords without taking Polity. Ask me, I know.) And if she did that, COM would let her keep serving the Daniels Run Church in the meantime.

But her life situation forbade her from taking more seminary classes at this time. She wouldn't be able even to think of it before next September. Since she was no longer a student but not yet eligible for ordination, the COM would not or could not allow her to continue to fill the DRPC pulpit.

So what, I wondered, were the Daniels Run people going to do all the coming winter, spring, and summer? Could I help them on any steady basis?

I got my answer this morning.

One of the elders accosted me at the door, just as I was about to enter the sanctuary: "Could I make an announcement before you begin the service?"

"Could you do it during the regular announcement time?" I suggested, wondering what was so stupendous it couldn't wait.

"No, I want to do it at the beginning. I have something I need to pass out to the congregation."

Oh. Seemed a little odd to me, but hey, I'm only the weekly supply. "All right," I said.

So after the prelude, I said, "Silas* has an announcement for you."

Silas stood up in his place and said, "I'm head of the committee that's working to get us a regular pastor, and I've got some news! We've been working with the Committee on Ministry and IrmaLou on how we can get her back as our regular pastor! And we've all decided that she'll be certified as a Commissioned Lay Pastor and we'll hire her on half-time. That means she'll be able to run Session meetings and do baptisms and funerals and communion-- but just for this congregation.

"But first," Silas continued, "Committee on Ministry wants everyone in this congregation to write down what they expect in a minister. I'm passing out a survey, and you write down what's important to you, like preaching, visiting, teaching, that kind of thing. You get them back to me, and when we get everything worked out, we should have our pastor IrmaLou back with us!"

He passed the papers around and throughout the service, people were busily filling them out. And me, I was mentally crossing the Daniels Run option off my list.

Even though it cuts me out, I admire their loyalty to their regular student supply minister. I admire it all the more since she's a woman, and many churches I know run their woman pastors ragged and suck them dry, then get angry at them because they can't give any more. This congregation seems to be different.

I just hope when IrmaLou gets her CLP and returns, she'll preach them Christ and Him crucified. If you don't do that, you're not qualified to be any category of Christian pastor at all.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


Two or three weeks ago I won a certificate for two free nights' hotel accommodation. I registered the number online as required, and a few days ago, I received a reservation request form from the affiliate company that's the actual hotel room consolidator.

This form has to be in by the 22nd. So yesterday I located it in the pile waiting on the stairs to go up to my study, and began filling it out.

I saw they want around $24 for "room tax." OK, I'd expected that. But I also saw they want the room tax fee paid by money order only.

As Arte Johnson used to say, "Veeeehhree in-ter-esstingg!"

So just on spec, I Googled this consolidator, Premium Travel of Maple Valley, Washington . . . What's this? They're cited on a couple of consumer complaints sites. They're not always on the ball with sending the room vouchers, apparently. And allegedly their customer service over the phone leaves a lot to be desired. And refunds, when demanded, take forever to arrive, if they ever do.

But that was just two or three people with problems. I imagine a company like this must process thousands of orders every year. Bound to have some things fall through the cracks.

For more information, I checked the Better Business Bureau for western Washington state. Whoo-ee! This Premium Travel outfit has had a hundred or more complaints in the past thirty-six months, and a lot of them remain unresolved.

Hmm. That's not good. But let's not be hasty. Maybe a lot of those complaints were from people visualizing free stays at the Ritz-Carlton, but actually being lodged at the Days Inn. I mean, free is free, right? What do you expect?

Still, still . . . I wasn't going to run out and buy my $24 money order. Not until I'd called this company and formed my own ideas of how cooperative and helpful they were.

Besides, I truly wanted to know what to expect, as to hotel class, proximity to attractions, and so on. And how much flexibility we'd have as to room arrangements. I mean, I'm travelling with a friend, and it'd be awkward to find out our free room only has one double bed, and that it'd cost a small fortune to change.

So this afternoon I called the number on the reservation request form, at Premium Travel's address outside Seattle. Ring .... ring .... ring .... ring .... ring .... Computerized phone company announcement came on: "This number has been disconnected. Calls are being taken by . . . " and the voice told off a number with a different area code.

Back online, thanks to various reverse lookup websites, I learn this new number is located in Sumner, Washington, down closer to Tacoma. But none of the sites say it belongs to Premium Travel. Some say no other information is available, others want to charge me to go further, and one says the number is unassigned!

I try "Premium Travel" in "Business unknown," in the entire state of Washington.

Hmm. Curious. More than that, suspicious.

I call the new number, just to see what happens.

This is what happens: I hear another computerized voice, telling me, "The mailbox for Premium Travel is full. Please hang up now." Said in a way that clearly communicated, "We don't really care if you hang up now or not, because we're going to cut off this call Right Now anyway, screw you."

Mailbox is full, eh? Full of irate messages from people wondering where their bloody hotel vouchers are or wanting their room tax fees back?

Um, I strongly suspect that I'd be an idiot to buy that money order and send it in. Besides, where would I send it? Obviously, the address on the form is no longer good!

Looks suspiciously like my friend Frieda* and I will have to do rather more planning and spend a bit more cash if we want to go to Williamsburg in the spring. But I'd rather do that than waste hours of my time on a wild goose chase, all because I got hooked in for $23.95-- and have to pay our own way in any event if we still planned to go.

I may be in for $15 already for processing the initial certificate, if I could remember what card I charged it to. That's enough.

I haven't talked to Frieda yet to see what she wants to do.

Nor have I notified the appliance dealer where I "won" the initial certificate. Wonder what they'll say!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


A week ago last Sunday at the Daniels Run Church*, where I'm preaching this month, a woman approached me during the coffee hour. She introduced herself and said, "I'm a published author!"

"Oh!" I said, suitably impressed. "What have you written?"

"I wrote a book about a woman who escapes from an abusive marriage. Maybe you'd like to buy a copy? It might be useful if you were counselling someone in that situation, you know."

I agreed it would be. But I didn't have the cash on hand at the moment.

"Oh, don't worry about it!" the author said. "I'll give you a copy!" And then, "Actually, the book is about me. I changed my name in the book, and I used a different name for the author. But it's about me."

Standing there, she told me briefly of the escape she'd made from her violent and manipulative husband. How she'd always considered herself a strong woman who'd never get trapped in a situation like that, and then she did. How she hoped what she'd written would help other women in similar circumstances. Hers sounded like a compelling story, and I was interested in reading more about it.

This past Sunday, she gave me the book. It was a slender volume, put out by an unfamiliar publisher.

I read it yesterday. And it was sad.

Sad in the basic story it told, of a woman trapped far from home by a plausible but false and cruel man, who for his own sick gratification worked first to undermine her mind, self-image, and emotions, then to injure her body, and then to destroy her relationships and place in society.

Sad, because the manipulation and abuse did not end once she had fled the husband and the home, but threatened her safety and compromised her relationship with their infant child.

And sad, because her story could have been told so much more powerfully, so much more feelingly. It is a story that begs to be told, but it wasn't, not in this little book. My author never ventured below the surface of her subject. You never get inside her skin, feel her fear, or rejoice in her ultimate recovery. It was like a conversation overheard at the next table at a cafe, one woman giving another a rundown on her latest news. Reading the book, I learned and felt nothing more than I had chatting with the author over coffee after church a week or so ago.

Is it simply that she cannot write? Or-- sad again! that even a decade or more after the experiences recounted, she cannot yet truly face them? Is there great pain still lurking there, and much healing left to do?

If I were the permanent pastor of this church, I might find out someday and be of help. But with me merely providing pulpit supply, I can't presume to suggest it. It'd be an intrusion; perhaps even a new form of abuse.

And that's sad.