Questions for the Week:
Beth Olker, Field Staff for Racial Equity and Women's Intercultural Ministries
00:04 – Simon Doong
Hello, and welcome to a matter of faith a president podcast, the podcast where we respond to your questions and comments on issues of faith, social justice, and church life. Don't be afraid to write in and ask your question. Because if it matters to you, it matters to us. And it just might be a matter of faith,
00:22 – Lee Catoe
whether it be faith in God, faith in others or faith in yourself. We are brought to you by the Presbyterian peacemaking program and unbound the interactive journal on Christian social justice for the Presbyterian Church, USA. I am your host, Lee Kato.
00:39 – Simon Doong
And I'm your host Simon Doong
00:41 – Lee Catoe
Without further ado, let's dive into today's questions.
00:45 – Simon Doong
So Lee, our first question today reads, “Despite the covid 19 pandemic, some people still seem skeptical that there are valid alternative ways to worship other than gathering in person. How can I help people see the light?” What do you think Lee?
01:03 – Lee Catoe
Well, I think this is a very good question to kind of talk about a broader issue that we've been seeing during this pandemic. And really the question, kind of in our overall view is what is our view of church? And I think that that is something that we are asking ourselves right now, is the church, the building? Is the church, the community? And what are what are we limiting church to? So I think that that is a great question, that we have to ask ourselves as people of faith that what are we looking at as the church? And how are we really, you know, looking at each other? Are we looking at each other as the church? And if we are, does that mean that we keep each other healthy? Does that keep we keep each other safe? Or if the church is the building, then then how are we using that? To ignore the people within our community? So I do think it's a very important question to be asking right now, during a pandemic.
02:10 – Simon Doong
Yeah, I think that I really like what you said about it's not just about the four walls, or if it is, what does that say about us as people of faith, and with the ways that we consider to be valid worship and valid community? Something that I think we it's something that we should probably also think about is if you go to say, another country, or another culture, or visit another faith, a place of house of worship, that community probably worships in a way that's going to be at least a little bit different from the way that that you're used to worshiping. And there's nothing wrong with that, because I think that this might be theologically contentious, but there's no one right way to do worship. Worship is about the community worship is about finding ways to praise and worship God, but also find ways to validate judge connect in a valid and genuine way. And if we only limit it to one specific space, and one specific form, I think we do ourselves and the community a disservice. For myself, I'll just say that. When I was in college, I didn't go to church. But I did meet with a couple friends every week for sort of a Bible study. It was like five or six guys. And we called ourselves the Bible bros, take that for what you will. But it was it was a good time. And it was intentional. It was genuine. And it was something to look forward to every week. So maybe for me that was church. And even right now I attend a lot of I tend to a young adult Bible study virtually. And I look forward to that every week. And it's actually been easier for us to organize that virtually than it ever was to organize in person. Before the pandemic, we'd always had trouble getting people to sort of repeatedly show up doing it virtually. So definitely, there's definitely validity to two alternative ways to doing worship and community.
03:57 – Lee Catoe
Yeah, and I think after God, God willing, after this, after we get past, the pandemic, that a lot of these ways of worship doesn't go away. But I do hope that we also have that conversation about “How do we also hold community?” There's nothing like gathering in person, I understand that this technology and that virtual gathering is here to stay. And I think that's a great option too. But also, I hope that in finding within this new creative way of doing worship, that some things come out of this new creative ways to gather in person to and how worship may change in those ways. But yeah, I do think it is a balance of, of holding community. And also if you're a traditionalist and you do kind of if that's church for you, and also upholding that I'm always a “both and” type of person. We can have those two things. I think we think so dually, you know, in today's society, that we don't hold space to have different manifestations of what worship can be. And so I do think we have to also reframe our minds that that can uphold multiple ways of doing something. And we also kind of have to get away from the number game, when it comes to church. And when it comes to worship, numbers don't necessarily mean a ministry is quote, successful, or how we gauge interest in ministry, I do think we, we should be expanding our view of what it means to to gather and what it means to God and community with one another. And so I think just kind of offering up other ways, offering up a different way to think about church and kind of investigating where, where does the skepticism come from? I often think we don't often get to the root of why we ask these questions, we always deal with the symptoms of what comes out of these choices, and to really think deeply about what is church and what is worship, and how to cultivate those conversations, because we're going to be having them now, we're going to be having them a lot more than we used to, because people are worshiping differently, because they've been forced to on the other end of that we've seen what a hardcore stance of going to church, even during a pandemic has done, it literally has aided in killing people. And so we are going to have to hold those things in tension with one another and what that might look like in the future.
06:44 – Simon Doong
Yeah, and I think you hit the you kind of hit the nail on the head about where that question about where does that skepticism come from? I mean, I think that we people, we really like tradition, and we don't like change. And so there needs to be a conversation around why some of us might want to hold on to specific aspects of our sort of our tradition or our ritual, and what are ways that we can adapt that so that it still feels meaningful, but maybe also is more accessible as well and open to more folks.
07:17 – Lee Catoe
So shall we move on to our next question?
07:20 – Simon Doong
Yeah, let's do it.
7:22 - Lee Catoe
Yeah. So our next question is, “I'm thinking about going to seminary, but I'm not 100% sure if it's for me, I think I'd like to be a pastor. But I'm also aware that there are many parts of ministry that seminary won't prepare me for, what are your thoughts?” So what are your thoughts, Simon?
07:44 – Simon Doong
First of all, I just want to say that I've not gone to seminary, nor am I a pastor. So I don't necessarily have that experience. But I will say that I think going to seminary is something you should do if you feel called if you feel called to it. And also just recognize that no education is going to completely prepare you for all of the responsibilities and duties of a job. And that's, that's true for any profession. I would ask a deeper question: is your concern about not being prepared for all the duties and responsibilities that a pastor faces? Or is that is it that there are parts of the job, or parts of ministry that you know, you don't like, and maybe you see that already, and you just have to, you have to do some internal reflection about what you think you can tolerate? I know that amongst my friends who have pastors, you know, going to seminary doesn't necessarily prepare you to try to figure out a church's budget, but you are going to run up against the church's budget pretty regularly. And that's a major question. And that doesn't mean it's necessarily going to fall to the pastor to figure all of that out. Because thankfully, you'll have a good church secretary or administrator and, and good members of session. But that's not always true. Especially because in I think, in some churches, often the buck stops with the pastor, and all duties are anything that anyone else isn't willing to do. They sort of assume the pastor will do it. And so you have to sort of ask yourself, you know, is that something that I'm willing to be able to take on if it if it came up, and also just add that you don't have to go to seminary to serve the church or be a part of social witness, you can still be involved in ministry and in your community and faith work without it necessarily being tied to your career. I say that as someone who works with a denomination but that is very true. You know, there are plenty of people who are very active in congregations that are lay people, they have jobs that are not tied to the church, but they're still very active. So there's plenty of opportunities out there. Lee, what do you think?
09:44 – Lee Catoe
Yeah, well, I did go to seminary, and I didn't necessarily go to seminary, I went to Divinity School, which there is a little bit of a difference. It's not concentrated on a specific denomination. So I had a very ecumenical education when it came to, to my theological education and our shout out Vanderbilt Divinity School, I can't do that without doing that. But I do think these are really good questions to be asking. I really wish that I had kind of asked myself these questions before I had decided to go to, to Divinity School. But it took me a long time to get there. It took me about five years to get there. But I do think Simon is very right. There are things that theological education will never prepare you for. It's all about experiencing, ministry outside of it that really kind of, you know, prepares you for what ministry can be. And I have, I have had a long, discernment process to find out where exactly I'm going to fall when it comes to ministry, I am ordained, but ordained to a position that is not a traditional congregational position, I'm ordained to the to the work that I do for the denomination. But I do think that having these thoughts is really important. And also finding ways outside of the church and outside of theological education that can prepare you for it. One of the biggest things that I benefited from was doing CPE, which is clinical pastoral education. And there are many pastoral care classes within the curriculum of the education that I got. But there's nothing like being or being in a clinical setting, or a structured setting to allow you to reflect and to gain personal skills, interactional skills, that that's the word. But I do think it is a great way to kind of delve into your own stuff, and to really figure out how to provide, if you're looking into pastoral ministry in a pastoral care sense, I think it's a great thing to kind of, to get those skills. But I do think there that education, seminary education is lacking in many ways that there should be financial classes, there should be some way to learn how to do a budget, there should be all these different ways, different other skills that should be provided within theological education that are not so I think, seeking out other ways to do so maybe taking a business class while you're taking classes and seminary would be very helpful. But also, again, you don't necessarily have to be a ministry, yeah, to, to even go to seminary or do a Divinity School. I think that's also a misconception, if you are really interested and doing the work of justice, that does it through a fate lands, there are so many different other opportunities for you that are out there now that you can really take advantage of and those opportunities are growing as ministry is evolving. And so I do think they're great questions to ask and keep asking yourself, because that is, because these questions aren't going to go anywhere, even when you're done with school, and I can really attest to that.
13:14 – Simon Doong
Yeah, it's, it's also interesting, because you don't have to go to seminary, right after, you know, right after undergraduate per se, there are plenty of folks who go to seminary sort of as like a second career change, you know, after doing something else for a while they decide that they feel called. And I think that maybe in some circumstances, that's that might be better. I mean, it depends on the person for the for someone who goes and does something else and then decides, you know, what, this is the call that I really feel, you know, they found themselves there. And for others who maybe weren't sure if that was what they wanted to do right out of college to go and do something else. And then find their way to that. I think that that's all valid. And that's, that's perfectly fine. So just be aware that there are different paths to seminary, as just as there are many paths other than seminary.
14:04 – Lee Catoe
Yeah. And it's scary. It's really scary to throw yourself into that calling. And it's perfectly for me, it's perfectly normal to make sure that is what you want to do. It took me five years, to really kind of accept it, and to really pray about it and to think about it that that I want to go into ministry of some sort. And I do think that before that discernment part is also really needed and finding people who can help you with that. Finding individuals who can speak into that and and to find, I don't know, resources that can help you to really figure out what your calling may be, but that also will keep changing and that will always be evolving. I personally don't think a calling is one thing. I think we're called to multiple things in our lives and how to nurture that throughout your journey. So, so yeah, there are so many options. But I think keeping an open mind and open heart to where kind of where the spirit takes you is, is always a good thing to keep in mind.
15:15 – Simon Doong
If you don't mind me asking Lee, you said that it took you five years to sort of accept that Divinity School was sort of where you were being led in your life. What did that process kind of look like? Did that, if you don't mind me asking, what sort of the inklings were? And then was there an experience or something that told you “Oh, this is definitely what I should be doing.”?
15:37 – Lee Catoe
When I was a young adult volunteer, which is, if you don't know what the adult volunteer program is, it is a program open to young adults to do a year of service, and a multitude of different locations within the partnerships of the church. So, so I did a year of service through that program. One of the reasons why I did that is because there was a discernment part of the program, specifically the program that I did. And I really kind of that's where I really kind of got the the itch, or that gut feeling. I can't really describe it, but it is kind of a spiritual thing. When do you feel that your call to ministry, and it was always in the back of my head. But I think that experience really catapulted me into to try to figure out what that looks like. And I never knew that, you know, you could not necessarily go to a denominational seminary, I did want something broader. And that's not for everybody. And I'm not discounting seminaries, denominational seminaries. But it took me a while to figure out what kind of education I wanted, it took me a while to, to look at different programs to find what emphasis I wanted. And so I do think it just took me that long to, to really get ready. I also managed a restaurant for two years, two and a half years in between that, and that taught me a lot It taught me It taught me a lot about personal skills, interactions with people always say if you don't know what to do, go into customer service, or the hospitality industry. And you have a huge education there. Because I do think it did teach me a lot and did prepare me a lot for ministry and managing projects and things like that. So I think it just took me time to kind of to get ready, and to really to get ready to spend the time on it, because it is very time consuming. And to get and just to prepare myself for it. And I knew that's what I wanted to do really quickly. But it was the process of, yeah, the preparation of it all to get to get ready.
17:57 – Simon Doong
Yeah, thanks for sharing that. It's just so interesting, everyone's path to seminary or not to seminary, because it's not, again, it's not the only the only viable way to be involved in ministry. But yeah, thank you for sharing that experience.
18:11 – Lee Catoe
Yeah. And I'm glad you said that. And we'll repeat. It's not the only way to be evolved. Nor should it just be the way to be involved. And we hope we can we iterate that reiterate that, that it's not the only way. And now to answer a special question, we have Beth Olker, who is the Associate for Racial and Gender Justice for the Presbyterian Mission Agency.
18:40 – Beth Olker
Hi, my name is Reverend Beth Olker. I work in the Office of racial equity and women's intercultural ministries in the Presbyterian mission agency and also serve as a solo pastor of a Presbyterian Church in North Carolina. So the question that was sent to me said, I am my congregations first female pastor. While most of the congregation members are nice and excited, I do feel that I run up against sexist attitudes at times, but they aren't overt things like members of the session or congregation not seeming to take me seriously or only listen to my ideas. If a man affirms them first, how can I help them adjust and accept a woman in a leadership role? So first of all, I want to say congratulations, being the first of anything isn't easy. But I imagine that in your congregation, there is at least one person, maybe a child, maybe an older adult, who will go through the rest of their life with you as an example of the limitlessness of God's call to them in a way they could not have imagined before you began to be their pastor. As far as advice. I have two suggestions for you. The first is to make sure you have supportive clergy, sisters and siblings, who you can turn to and share the tough times and the joys of your ministry. Choose People who will listen and just say, wow, that sucks when you need to complain, and who will brainstorm with you when you're ready to process what's going on, and make some changes and how you might approach your role and your congregation. The second piece of advice is to just keep asking questions. This congregation saw your gifts and saw God's Spirit in you. They for the most part, want you to grow and lead the church with them these subtle offenses or micro aggressions that you mentioned. Some of them may be intentional. But I have found that often when they are so deeply rooted in the way they state, the speaker has learned to live in the world and interact with people, they might not realize what they're doing. So when something happens, make a note and make a plan to talk to the person about it later. It takes some vulnerability. But using “I” statements like during session last week, I felt like my ideas were only affirmed after Stanley also said the same thing. See what their responses are. Also, if the men in the church are trying to support you by restating your ideas, and you feel safe, having a similar dialogue with them. Try asking them specifically to support you not just by lifting up your ideas. But also by lifting up the fact that the ideas were yours to begin with. Again, offer them the same opportunity to see things through your eyes. Try saying something like during session last week, I was glad you agreed with me on that issue about the Christian ad budget. But I felt unheard when the session seemed to need to hear the idea from you. To hear it next time. If you agree with an idea I said I would appreciate if you named the fact that you heard my idea. Like I agree with Pastor Morrissey that we should purchase the curriculum with the Christian ed budget. And I will try to do the same when I agree with you. More importantly than any of this advice, I want you to hear that you are not alone. You are not making these things up. You are not being too sensitive. When you notice micro aggressions, it doesn't mean they don't love you and respect you. You got this. I will be praying for you and for your ministry.
22:19 – Simon Doong
So thanks to Beth Olker for being with us and being our guests for this week. We are really appreciative of her work within the church and hope that she will come back and be with us again on the podcast. So thanks again, Beth.
22:37 – Simon Doong
For our next segment, in which we usually highlight relevant pcusa policies and resources, Lee and I would like to call all of your attention to the respective programs that that we work for Lee with unbound and me Simon Dune with the Presbyterian peacemaking program. So Lee, tell us what is Unbound?
22:59 – Lee Catoe
Well, Unbound is a publishing platform. And now we have kind of expanded into media, as per example of this podcast in partnership with the press strain peacemaking program. We are a publishing platform, and now media that speaks to the intersections of faith and justice work. And so, in the past, we have published series that speak to certain topics within social justice. Recently, we have really been focusing on how do we rethink our seasons within the liturgical calendar. So we have been publishing a series of lands and Advent that really focus in on justice work this past Advent, we published a womanist Advent, and then this year and lent 2021, we published a lamp series called disabling lamp, which really focuses on disability theology, and those who experience disabilities and their experience and how they speak to faith in our time, and so we publish many things on a regular basis. So you are able to submit stuff for us to publish through our website or you can send an email to us with an inquiry or a submission at info at Justice unbound.org and that is where you can find the articles the series, all the media that we do is on that website, Justice unbound.org. And we've recently just published a YouTube channel where we're kind of expanding into media or video particularly and there you will find the show that we do live on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube called just taught live, which I co host with destiny Hodges of the young adult volunteer program, who We'll probably be a guest on this podcast at some point. And we also now have a lectionary video series called taking it to the text, which I come on about a five minute video to expand on the lectionary for the week. So it's become a resource for a lot of ministers and church leaders in the church. So I'm bound as doing a lot of things that can offer the church and for a lot of people to get plugged into. So we hope that you will use the resource use the platform, and this podcast will live in partnership with the peacemaking program on those platforms as well. So we're doing a lot of things when it comes to faith and justice. And I think we'll be doing a lot more of media in the future, as well as writing and Simon is a part of the work that we do. We're have a editorial board that really focuses and filters, a lot of the stuff that we get and speaks to speaks to the issues of our time through writing. And so we're really grateful for that. And Simon is a part of that. So, so yeah, find us online. Justice. unbound.org. Find us on YouTube, just search justice unbound. And if you're a writer, let us know. Send us an email. We hope to hear from me.
26:18 – Simon Doong & Lee Catoe
This has been the matter of faith podcast brought to you by the Presbyterian peacemaking program and unbound. If you would like to submit a question for discussion, you can do so at faith [email protected] We look forward to hearing from you. See you next time. See you next time, y'all.
26:41 – Simon Doong
Hey, everyone, thanks for listening to Episode Two of a matter of faith a presby podcast. Don't forget to subscribe on your podcast platform of choice.
26:51 – Lee Catoe
And don't forget to leave us a review. Hopefully it's a five star review. But again, leave us a review it helps with viewership. And so until next time, we'll see you again