Earlier this summer we held Vacation Bible School at our church. We had a morning program mostly for the children at our preschool, a few of their older sisters and brothers, and a few of our congregation's children as well.
Recently a grandmother told me how much her fourth grade granddaughter already loves a new three-year-old in our congregation. Their family just started visiting, and when the children, all ages, come together for to play and draw and wonder about the scripture readings, the little girl sings her own song about how much she loves Jesus. They are making a connection, beginning a relationship, not based on being in the same grade, but based on being in the same body of Christ.
I held two small first communion classes for a few students from the church. It had been a while since I organized a class like this, so I felt a little rusty. The book that I used to use (and that I loved) had gone out of print. I cobbled together some resources and we talked about baptism and sacraments and words along with things that you can touch. We drew pictures and watched a scene from the movie Holes, and read a couple of stories about meals in the Bible. We talked a little bit about the Passover, and we ended up talking about trusting God, that God comes to us in this meal.
I had a wedding earlier this month. It was my first wedding here, in my new-ish call. The couple at whose wedding I officiated are fairly new members of the congregation. She came and visited not long after I started. A little later, he visited as well. I have some affection for the first few people who showed up the same hot summer that I did.
On Sunday, we hear the story from John 21 of Jesus and Peter on the beach. Jesus asks Peter three times, "Do you love me?" and three times Peter answers, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." Then Jesus tells him, "Feed my sheep." We also hear about how Saul became the apostle Paul, on the road to Damascus. Here he was, on the way to persecute the followers of the Way, and out of the blue, Jesus speaks to him, too: "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" There he is struck blind, and when he sees again, he has a new calling as a follower of Jesus and a missionary to the gentiles.
On one Sunday, we hear stories of two of the main characters from the New Testament. But I can't help being drawn to Ananias.
For the last six weeks I wore an orthotic boot on my left foot. I fractured a small bone in my ankle while walking my dog one sunny morning in January. I wasn't doing anything exciting or high-risk. I just stumbled and rolled the foot enough to get a fracture instead of a sprain.
I have never broken a foot, ankle, or leg before, so I was unaccustomed to the extra weight of the boot.
Names are important, I believe. When I first learned, in junior high Latin class, that my name was also that of a Roman goddess (the goddess of the moon and the hunt, I was told), it had a positive effect on my self-esteem. At least temporarily.
A few weeks ago I was invited to breakfast with a few other pastors from my community. It was an ecumenical group, although no one said the word ecumenical. I was invited by one of the parents at my congregation's pre-school, a Catholic who loves our school and thinks it is awesome. He has been the instigator of a community "Faith Fest" for the last few years.
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.