I’m a Free Range Pastor


[Image Description: A brown rooster stands on a sidewalk in front of a fence and is facing left.]

To borrow some language from the Rev. MaryAnn McKibben Dana, I’m a Free Range Pastor. I enjoy this role very much.

In this role, though I’m roving, I’m not not detached in some way. I’m connected to communities. Many of them, in fact. That is part of what I enjoy so deeply. As a Free Range Pastor, I have the opportunity to lead worship and build relationships with so many congregations. Over time, these relationships have grown deep.

I’m a member of the Presbytery of Detroit, the collective group of people that also sponsors my ministry work as a chaplain and community organizer in Ann Arbor. And as Presbyterians sometimes do, we have a very jargony term for people like me. I’m a…

Teaching Elder at Large.

See? Isn’t that jargony?

It’s our title for people who are members of the Presbytery, but not serving in long-term, called positions within congregations.

For a long time, I think people viewed this role primarily as a temporary, holding term for ministers who were between positions. But once I entered it, I really began to feel like it was a calling in and of itself.

Most Sundays, I lead worship in various churches throughout our Presbytery. (And occasionally, outside our Presbytery). Often, I fill in when a pastor is away. Sometimes, I spend a month or two with one congregation while they are in transition. I’ve discovered I really love the opportunity to be the shorter term transitional leader before the interim pastor or new pastor arrives. And within all of this, over the last four years, I have built wonderful relationships with all of these congregations. I love that.

Teaching Elder at Large, or Free Range Pastor, or whatever we want to call it, I enjoy being a resource, consultant, worship leader, keynoter, and of course, friend and cheerleader to many congregations. It’s a special role.

And in the midst of this, I’m called primarily to my own ministry in Ann Arbor. The Presbytery supports that as a Validated Ministry. (More official jargon, distinguishing it from parish ministry). All of these congregations feel connected in some way to that vision, so that is lovely.

The community circle is large. And I’m a teaching elder within that large. Or… maybe just a chicken.

Renee Roederer

When Life Rhymes Quite Wonderfully

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[Image description: Four handbells are lying on a green bell table. Two are in foreground. They have white handles and read D5 and E5. Two are in the background. They have black handles and read D-flat5 and E-flat5.]

As I shared in post yesterday, I spent last week with Crossroads Presbyterian Church in Mequon, Wisconsin. At one point, while I was meeting with a group, I just happened to tell them the story of how I became a Presbyterian. I didn’t plan on sharing that story, but it flowed quite naturally into our conversation.

Now I’ll share it with you:

In my earliest years, I was raised as a fundamentalist, and I attended Southern Baptist churches. It would have never dawned on me that I would someday be Presbyterian, let alone, that I would one day become a Presbyterian minister. All the leaders in my earliest churches were men, even the people who served as ushers, and even the people who collected the offering. (Sidenote: Once I did become Presbyterian, I was surprised when women walked down the aisles and passed the offering plates. “They can do that here?” I thought?)

One day, when I was in seventh grade, I was sitting in an ugly, orange chair in the cafeteria of my junior high school. I was sitting there with my best friend who was complaining about something kind of overly-specific. Most of the time, we talked about our peers or embarrassing things our parents did — you know, typical seventh grade conversation. One this day, however, my friend was belaboring the point that she was assigned too many bells in her church handbell choir. It was too many for one person!

So I asked,

“Could I join your handbell choir? That sounds fun. Maybe I could help out.”

The next Sunday, my friend asked if I could join the group, and Amy Roth, the director of the bell choir, said yes. All these years later, I think about her ‘yes.’ Never underestimate how much you might provide another person when you simply include them. Sometimes, it can open more possibilities than we would anticipate at the time.

That ‘yes’ was wonderful. I came to my first Sunday evening rehearsal, and I was assigned my own set of bells. (My friend could play less!) And that led to so much more for me. I enjoyed the music and formed new friendships. The youth group met afterward, so I started joining their time together as well.

For a while, I attended worship at my Southern Baptist congregation and then came to hang out with the Presbies in the evening. But over time, that church — St. John United Presbyterian Church — became an additional family to me, and I wanted to be there on Sunday mornings too.

“So the rest is history,” I told the people in Wisconsin. “Two bells — D5 and E5 — made me Presbyterian.”

Then someone in the group said, “You’re not going to believe this, but we need someone to play D5 and E5 this Sunday. Would you be interested in doing that?”


Soon after, I received an email from the Worship Ministry Director asking,

“This Sunday, would you like to be a ringer ringer?”

That made me laugh. I thought it would be wonderful to jump in and play my old bells, the very notes that started this whole trajectory.

So I did.

Someone once said to me, “Sometimes, life rhymes a bit.” This was certainly one of those moments, and it was pretty great.

Renee Roederer


Year Seven

6 -- Love

[Image Description: There is a white background. A black marker is writing on a red heart and finishing writing the letter E on the word ‘Love.’]

Today is the 7th anniversary of my ordination.

That ordination service, filled with loved ones, was one of the most meaningful moments of my life. Every year on this date, I think about the people who were connected to that moment.

I had moved formally in the direction of ordination for seven years, so it was a long time coming. The people in my home church in New Albany, Indiana nurtured that direction and taught me a lot about what was possible in living in community with one another. My college friends in Louisville accompanied me in making the decision to move in this direction. My seminary professors and classmates at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary introduced me to so much learning and helped me discern my interests and sense of calling.

My ordination service took place at University Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas, the first congregation I served. I marvel at how many significant people came into our lives during our years there  — people with whom I’m still in regular conversation all the time. Truly, so many of them, and truly, all the time. There’s a big diaspora of us who were there together and have since moved all over the country.

My ordination service took place on behalf of Pasadena Presbyterian Church, the congregation that was calling me to a new role. I had already been serving there for a while, but now, I would be ordained. I was really touched that some of them traveled to Austin for the service. All of them remembered me during that service and felt connected to the moment, even if they were far away. This congregation nurtured so much creativity in me, and to this day, I’m so grateful for that.

And of course, that ordination service eventually led me to other places and other communities beyond that time. Every community has added to me. Every community has taught me so much. Every community has been filled with significant relationships. They’ve all shaped who I’ve become.

Last week, I spent some time with Crossroads Presbyterian Church in Mequon, Wisconsin. One day, I was with a circle of people who have been reading the Bible together for years. After exploring a passage together, I asked,

“Have you ever had a moment when you were loved beyond what you expected?”

In response to that question, people told powerful stories. I appreciated hearing those.

When I look at this trajectory — ordination, and all that has come with it — it hasn’t always been easy. There have been challenges too.

But above all,

the seven years that prepared me for this, and
the seven years that followed,

have led to many occasions when I’ve been loved beyond what I’ve expected.

That’s also how I feel about the whole of it.

And I’m grateful.

Renee Roederer

Please Think of Our Campus

5 University of Michigan

CW: Mass Shootings

It has been a very challenging few days in Ann Arbor. On Sunday, students and community members gathered in the University of Michigan Diag to surround and support the local Muslim community. Together, people were holding a vigil to honor the victims of the two mass shootings at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand and to speak against Islamophobia.

During the vigil, while someone was reading a poem, people saw and heard a police officer shouting, “Move, move, move! Go, go, go!” and everyone ran in a panic to try to hide. Some went straight into Mason Hall, then shortly after going inside, received an active shooter alert that there could be shooter in Mason Hall. The scene was very chaotic and confusing. Most of all, it was terrifying. Students and community members hid for hours.

A few hours later, everyone learned there was no shooter. There have been some reports of people popping balloons…? But much is unclear. All the folks I’ve talked to, including those who have written publicly about their experience, never heard popping sounds. They just heard and saw the police officers, then fled. There are still lots of questions about how it all happened.

Thankfully, there was no shooter.

At the same time, though the most serious threat was not really present, the experience was very real. People feared for their lives and their loved ones. Our Muslim neighbors gathered to grieve and express their pain and fear, only to have their fears realized.

Please think of our community this week. This is what I wrote on Facebook yesterday:

Thinking about all the lost sleep in Ann Arbor this week and how difficult it is to rest and feel grounded after a traumatic event.

Care and solidarity most especially to the Muslim community, at the center of this pain. ❤️

Care for all bodies that feel jumpy, afraid, unrested, and ungrounded.

Care for the ones who say internally, “but I’m not supposed to feel this way,” and keep pushing and powering on. It’s okay to feel this way. We’re allowed.

Care for the ones who have experienced new trauma this week overlaid on top of the grooves of old trauma — all of it manifesting now as it is processed internally and physically in the present.

Care toward the choices we make to surround and resource our most vulnerable neighbors, our communities, and ourselves.

May everyone have what they need today, and may everyone be able to say, “I don’t have it yet.”


Renee Roederer

Set Aside Some Time to Watch This

[Photo Credit: NEXT Church Website, National Gathering Page. Image description: Colorful threads stretch out at a diagonal, and they are half-woven together. In white text, there are the words: “Woven Together — Stories of Dissonance, Sacrifice & Liberation”]

Hello, friends. I’m back from the NEXT Church National Gathering in Seattle. What a wonderful, full, thought-provoking, emotion-provoking, idea-provoking time!

This week, I said that I would share some thoughts about our time together, but rather than do some summarizing, I’d like to resource you toward primary sources.

One such source is a phenomenal, necessary talk from Dr. Jennifer Harvey. Drawing from the story of Ruth, she asks over and over again, “Who are your people?” and calls us toward acts of advocacy, solidarity, support, and restitution for communities harmed by centuries of racism and oppression.

Set some time aside and watch the whole thing. I think it will move you, as it did us.

Dr. Jennifer Harvey: Who Are Your People?

This includes a talk and a time of Q&A.

Renee Roederer

Next Church


[Photo Credit: NEXT Church Website, National Gathering Page. Image description: Colorful threads stretch out at a diagonal, and they are half-woven together. In white text, there are the words: “Woven Together — Stories of Dissonance, Sacrifice & Liberation”]

This week, I’m in Seattle for the national gathering of Next Church. Next Church is a conference and a movement within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) that seeks to ponder and act upon new visions for Church and collective life. As a part of this movement, we ponder innovation, community-building, and concerns of justice in our church, neighborhoods, and world. Who are we, and who are we called to become?

Over the next few days, I’ll share some of what I’m learning here. But for now, if you’d like to learn more about all of this, come visit this page.

And wherever you are, and whatever you’re pondering today, I hope that you are stretched and encouraged, just as we are!

Renee Roederer