Sometimes I think there should be another word for "stewardship." It's always been the word we use to describe the annual emphasis (usually in the fall) on giving financially, usually to your local congregation. Of course, in seminary, we learned that "stewardship" means something else—it means taking care of something that belongs to Someone Else. But still…
I stopped in at the preschool this afternoon. It is right across from my church, and "relating to the preschool" was actually in my letter of call. So, once a week, I lead a brief chapel service for a hundred or so preschoolers, and, lately, I have been stopping by for a half-hour or an hour, just dropping in on a couple of classes to see what they are doing.
My former congregation had a generous policy about funerals. There were a lot of people who were connected with us, in some way or another, and we could usually find some way to work it out if someone wanted to have their funeral in our sanctuary. But, the congregation has always had two or more pastors, so it was relatively easy to work that into someone's schedule.
One afternoon I got a "friend" request from someone on Facebook. I did not recognize the name, for a variety of reasons, one of which was the name was written in Chinese script. I saw that we had one friend in common, another missionary friend of mine from 30 years ago when I lived in Japan. Still, I really did not recognize the name. I couldn't pronounce the name. I no longer read Japanese.
So, I sent this person a message, asking them, "Are you one of my former students from Japan?"
So, I've only been at my church for a couple of months, not long enough to accomplish anything big or great. That's what I keep telling myself, anyway. I keep having to remind myself that I have only been here a couple of months. I am just getting to know people. It's too early (for example) to convert Texas or even the greater Conroe area.
At my last congregation, I often preached at a small Saturday evening service in our chapel. I came to call it, affectionately, the "early edition." One of the occasional attendees was a nice older woman who I came to know pretty well. Sometimes she came early and we had an opportunity to visit.
It was a long time ago now—but you don't forget some things, even after many years. It was a long time ago that I lived and worked as a missionary in Japan. I was a stranger there. Although I worked very hard to know and to be known, to learn Japanese, to understand, there were also many other forces that made that difficult. In some ways, I would always be a stranger.
Once a month, on Monday evenings, I was worshiping at a new service at my husband's church. There is no sermon at this worship service. There are no hymns, but the service does open and close with a meditative chorus. There is instrumental music in the background. There are two or three short scripture readings. There is plenty of silence between the scripture readings.
When I was learning to be a missionary in Japan, I went to language school. Five mornings a week, we got together in small classes with only about eight students in each classroom, because the emphasis was on oral language learning and drills. There, we met missionaries from other traditions as well as students in Japan for more secular pursuits.
I lived in Japan for three years and never ate raw horse meat, although I heard that it was a delicacy in the region where I lived. It was called basashi, I heard, and kept wondering if there would be a time when I would have to swallow my revulsion and taste it. But it never happened.
There were new and strange foods, though, and I learned that it was part of being a missionary to learn to eat things I had never tasted before, to accept hospitality as well as to provide it.
As part of my work, I have meetings and conversations with couples prior to their weddings. We don't just plan the ceremony. We also use an inventory which purports to measure the couple's "Strengths" and "Growth Areas." The inventory gives us many possibilities for conversations that we can have about their relationship.
I have used a lot of different devotional books in my day, with varying degrees of success. I remember being enamored, long ago when I was in college and sort of a Jesus-fanatic, of a classic called God Calling, which I read more-or-less faithfully for a while. God Calling was supposed to be the voice of God coming directly to me— and all of the other people who bought the book as well. I also vaguely remember a book called Come Away, My Beloved. The title makes alone time with God seem sort of, well, seductive, in a way. I don't remember if the contents of the book delivered on that promise.
Then there was the task of finding a daily Bible reading.
The other day my husband was telling me about a conversation he'd had with a young colleague of his, recently married. They have been contemplating getting a dog, a big move for them. When he asked how the process was moving along, his colleague confessed that he was very nervous about the prospect, and thought it might be a mistake, although he also thought it might also be inevitable.
"Did you ask him why he was nervous about it?" I asked my husband.
I had a funeral recently, a small funeral in our chapel for a retired teacher from our community. She had just a few, particular requests for her funeral: that we would read Ecclesiastes 3:1-13, that we would sing "Beautiful Savior," and that a woman from our congregation would sing.
She did not designate a particular song; she just wanted this woman to sing, an alto from our church's choir.
One time at a women’s retreat, I was asked to tell my call story. I told this woman the whole, convoluted story—about serving as a missionary in Japan, about being restless in my work and volunteering for leadership roles in my church, about discovering old journals where I had written about my desire to study theology, about my memory of sitting in church as a teenager and hearing the pastor give the sermon and saying, “If I was a man, that is what I would want to do.” I told her that it had taken me a long time, but I finally realized that God was calling me to be a pastor.
It was my first winter in rural South Dakota, and despite the worrisome weather, I was planning a road trip. On Sunday morning, one of my parish members came up to me and solemnly handed me a coffee can. It contained a roll of toilet paper, a candle, some matches, and a candy bar. “Put this in your trunk,” she said. I had no idea what this was. “Thank you,” I said.
Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism is spare. But there is this: Jesus is baptized in a river, in the wilderness. The baptisms where I preside have been relatively tame. Still, the danger of the river is present.